Setting goals for a conference

11 Mar

I am on my way home from an interesting meeting: the viral evolution workshop at Penn State, organized by Marilyn Roossinck. The meeting was smaller than I expected, yet much less “inbred” than I had feared. It was fun and useful, and the best outcome is that I am excited to go back to a project that I had started a while ago.

My goals for the meeting

Whenever I go to a conference or workshop, I think about my goals before I go. This helps me to be focused during the meeting and to get the highest “return on investment.” After all, a meeting costs hundreds of dollars and a lot of time. It better be useful!

My goals for this meeting looked something like this:
1. Talk to person X about a certain topic.
2. Talk to person Y about a job I consider applying for.
3. Get to know person Z.
4. Learn from the talks.

The fourth item on the list may seem obvious, but I don’t think it is. At some meetings my main goal is really to network, and learning from the talks is only secondary. In this case I made an effort to learn from the talks and I took a lot of notes.

Of course, I also did other things than the four on my list. I met quite a few people who I didn’t even know existed. I gave a talk and explained to several people what a soft sweep is (see here for a schematic). Finally, I contributed to the discussions by asking questions.

Read the program

For my next conference, one of my goals will be to read the conference program more carefully. This time, I thought my talk was on the second day and I was quite surprised to find out that it was on the first! I was so happy that I had my slides ready, though I would have liked to do another practice run in my hotel room.

All in all, it was a well-spent four days.

3 Responses to “Setting goals for a conference”

  1. Becca M. March 14, 2013 at 1:21 pm #

    Hi Pleuni,

    I got this from an org I follow: New Organizing Institute – You can subscribe to their various Tips and get them in weekly emails. They have tech and organizing tips that I have found helpful. This made me think of your post!

    ***[Tip] Set goals for conferences and events***

    Conferences can enrich your staff and expand your organization’s work and reach. But if your team goes without some specific strategies, you won’t get as much out of them as you could.

    Goals for a conference can be qualitative or quantitative. I like to think of it as a treasure hunt, so there’s flexibility and fun, but also a clear outcome. There are two primary things I think through — and ask my team to consider — before going to a conference:

    1. What can you bring back? Yes, you can learn great stuff…but how can that benefit the rest of your staff? Last year after Netroots Nation, Jamie McGonnigal learned so much from Upworthy that he gave the highlights from their session at a staff meeting, so the whole org was exposed to a great lesson!

    2. Who can you meet? This is where I like to make quantitative goals. When I attend a conference, I make a list of specific people I want to meet there, and also set a number of “new connections.” That way I can be strategic, but also am forced to introduce myself and make those unexpected connections. (And remember: your new connections are only as good as your followup!)

    Depending on the conference, there can be lots of other thoughts and questions to consider. Whatever set of questions and goals you set, the key is to have deliverables that allow you to explore, but also hold you accountable to doing more than happy-hour jumping with your friends.

    • pleunipennings March 14, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

      Hi, Becca, this looks very useful. Thanks for sharing the link!


  1. My itinerary for ESEB 2013 | Being A Better Scientist - August 11, 2013

    […] usually set goals for conferences (see here), but not a specific itinerary. Inspired by other bloggers (such as Jeremy Fox on Dynamic Ecology), […]

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