I love going to conferences.
I get so inspired and come back with tons of ideas that will never work in my context to try anyway! Mostly, it’s a good time to reflect and dream about my ministry, taking inventory of my goals and accomplishments to see where I’m at.
I’ve been to a lot of conferences in my nearly two decades of ministry and I’ve learned a few things about them. Let me share real quick how I’ve learned to get the most out of a conference.
Plan your Conference
I’m a planner. I’ve actually got some ideas about my tombstone and funeral if that helps you with some context (the Konami code better be on my tombstone). So when I go to a conference, I like to plan my time ahead of time. It’s like plotting a jump through time. Or something cool like that.
I plan my breakout sessions I want to go to and mark them on my schedule (that I’ve already downloaded and printed out). That way, I don’t have to make any last-minute decisions. Oh, I also have what I call a “Breakout Backup” plan. If I go to this breakout and it’s terrible or isn’t what I need, I’ll jump over to this one.” Contingencies FTW.
I also plan my mindset going in. I know that there will be a lot of information given. I used to go into these things ready to absorb and apply everything, but not anymore. Now, I go in ready to filter what I want to absorb and apply, so it frees me up from the guilt of not doing more, etc. I also have limited space in the ol’ noggin and I’d hate to get it cluttered.
I don’t have to agree with everything taught and I don’t have to imitate everything seen. I am a human with a mind that works.
Network Like a Madman
I used to go to conferences looking for information. Now I know that one of the best things I can take away from a conference are friendships.
Reach out and meet people. Talk to the breakout leaders and get their info. Make friends with those who do ministry near you or like you. Network like a madman.
Why? Because if I’ve learned anything in the past few years it’s that a person is stronger with friends. I mean, go watch a movie, dude. That message is EVERYWHERE…and it’s true.
So bring some business cards and your best smile and leave your introverted self at the hotel for a few days.
Use the Hashtag
Most conferences have a special hashtag they are using to communicate with attendees. They will give away prizes using it and may even quote some of the tweets or share your Instagram photos in the assemblies.
Basically, there’s a conversation happening “under the table” at the conference and it’s happening on social media. Follow the speakers, breakout leaders, host church, and any other companies that might be represented there ahead of time.
Also, if the conference has created an app, download it. There will be tons of helpful information in there for the conference including a schedule, speaker bios, secret messages, etc.
Technically, a lot of this section could go under the “Plan Your Conference” section too because it’s good info to know going in. You might find out “Free breakfast on Thursday morning!” and save some money. You may also find out that everyone snuck out and went swimming in the pool after hours last night and you missed it. Ugh…high school all over again, right?
Take Lot’s of Good Notes
Put them all in the same place, type if you can’t write legibly, and try to use complete sentences for context later. Otherwise, why go through all the trouble only to come back later to incomprehensible drivel that you can’t remember what you meant?
I can type pretty fast, so I prefer an actual MacBook, but you may want to take an iPad for space since most conferences are in auditoriums and there isn’t much room for laptops.
Plan a Solid Debrief Time
One of the worst things I ever didn’t do was pass on what I learned at the conference. You HAVE to debrief what you learned with your team or staff afterward. Otherwise, when you implement your big, new, awesome plan, no one will know what you’re doing and will resist the big, awesome plan.
Each evening of the conference, if your team came along, meet with them to discuss big takeaways. If they didn’t come with you, go over your notes and plan a “takeaways” meeting with everyone when you get back. Decide what you can realistically implement and set up a time to share it with the rest of the staff or with the church as is appropriate.
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