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Conference tips: Making (and breaking) a timetable

A fairly common conference tip is for you to create a timetable for yourself, outlining all the talks and sessions you will be attending to ensure you make the most of the day. However, sticking rigidly to this schedule is not necessarily the best option. You might find you get more out of a conference by deviating from your original plan a bit.

Of course, this doesn't mean you should ignore your schedule completely. You created it for a reason, and being too slack with your organisation means you might end up missing out on a session or two that would have been a real benefit to you and your organisation. You need to balance a tight schedule with the ability to improvise.

This is not easy to do at first. How do you know when to move away from a timetable? It might seem like there's no way to tell whether an impromptu networking session is going to be more or less important than a seminar without experiencing them. However, there are a few ways you can be sure you make the right decisions on the day.


Factor improvising into your timetable

You can make things a lot easier for yourself on the day if you create your timetable with the understanding that you will probably end up ignoring parts of it as the day goes on. If someone invites you to skip the next session and go over some notes together, it will be helpful to know which one is the better option without having to think about it.

When you create your timetable, label each session with a priority ranking. Work out which ones you absolutely cannot miss, which ones would definitely be beneficial for you and which can be safely skipped. That way, you will be better able to assess whether a session can be skipped or not.


Research potential contacts beforehand

Of course, if you are being invited to skip a session to do a bit of networking then it will be helpful to know who you will be speaking with. Otherwise you might end up turning down a meeting with an incredibly important CEO, or wasting your time with someone who won't be able to help your business.

You should be able to find a list of conference attendees, or at least end up with a good idea of the people attending. Social media can often help you here, as attendees might tweet about coming to a conference or leave a comment on the event's page. This will enable you to look up the people attending so you can tell how valuable they will be to you.

A bit of research beforehand will allow you to come up with a list of conference attendees that you definitely want to meet with. Along with your timetable, you will be armed with a list of both sessions and people that deserve your attention, enabling you to use your time correctly.


Record, review and repeat

Every time you have to choose between sticking to your timetable or deviating from it, you should record what you did and why. Then, once your choice has played out, detail what you think you achieved and what you got out of the experience.

This should enable you to spot trends and learn from your experience. If you find that in general the sessions you attend are more helpful than your networking then you will be more hesitant to skip one in future. Similarly, you might find you want to focus more on networking.
This approach lets you adjust your plan on the fly as well. If you are having some particularly useful networking sessions at a conference, you might think about skipping even your most important sessions in order to get more out of it. If you are as flexible as possible, you will find each conference is more successful than the last.

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