Last week, I had the distinct honor of attending the ILEA LIVE conference in my hometown. To be honest, it’s been awhile since I fully participated in a conference – often, I’m zipping in to speak or present, and don’t get the opportunity to really soak up the conference experience.
I’m a long-time conference-goer though. From my first year in the wedding industry, I made professional development a priority, and I made sure that I budgeted for one major conference annually. Now, 9 years later, it’s become harder to find the time, and when you’re speaking at a conference, there’s a definite different vibe (internally. And by vibe, I mean nervousness!) which can dull the shine somewhat.
When ILEA Live came to my hometown, while I was excited to showcase my amazing city to event professionals worldwide, I wasn’t super excited about the conference itself. Without the lure of exploring a new city and with scheduling conflicts that would preclude me from attending education sessions, I wasn’t sure what the benefits would be. However, as the Vice-Chair of Operations and Corporate Governance (past Vice-Chair now – the new board was sworn in at the conference), I knew I had a responsibility to attend, at the very least, the leadership sessions.
But something profound and magical happened, and it reminded me why it is SO critical to attend conferences and workshops in this industry.
I re-connected. Within moments of arriving, I was greeted by familiar faces. In some cases, these were people I hadn’t seen in 4-5 years. There were hugs, not handshakes. Everywhere I turned, it seemed, I found a long-lost friend. 2 days into the conference, and I my heart – and head – was full. From leadership sessions to impromptu lunches to happy hours to charity events, I was reminded of the power of connection.
I was reminded how connection – in person, live connection – feeds your soul. The power of sitting across from someone and talking about the industry, business, life – it’s incredibly powerful. Being surrounded by your people – the people that GET IT. They GET the struggles, the challenges, the wins… they get it.
The event industry is, without question, my extended family. We sometimes go years without seeing one another, but when we do, it’s like no time has passed at all.
If you haven’t attended a wedding or event conference, I strongly encourage you to do so. I know it can be terrifying as a first-time attendee – I remember my first time perfectly. So here’s my advice for a successful conference:
- Attend as many events as you can afford. While the educational sessions are important and valuable, socializing and networking is equally so. Yes, it can be exhausting, but you can sleep later!
- Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to strangers. Several times last week, I had someone whom I’ve never met approach me at my table and ask if they could join me. An hour later, we were fast friends. Be brave, you never know who you’ll meet.
- Come prepared to learn – and not just from the educational sessions. It’s fascinating learning about how other markets work, so don’t hesitate to ask questions when you meet people from outside your market.
- Follow up! Reach out to the people you met after the conference and let them know that you appreciate having met them. Add them on social media. Send them a thank-you note. Whatever your method, take the time to followup.
- Take time to process after the conference. Conferences can be OVERWHELMING, especially if, like me, you’re actually an introvert. I needed 2 full days at home after the conference to wrap my head around the experience. Write down your thoughts and takeaways.
- Be a repeat attendee. I attended The Special Event 4 years in a row. I learned something new every year, and I LOVED reuniting with other conference goers. Of course, there is a huge benefit to attending different conferences each year, but there is something really powerful to being a return attendee as well.
What conference would you attend if you had your pick? Why?