It’s hard to believe NTEN’s Nonprofit Technology Conference has already come and gone. This was my second year in attending NTC, and I think I walked away with even better information that last year – and there are a few big reasons why.
Here are some of my takeaways on how to have a fruitful conference experience:
Go with someone from a different department in your organization
I personally work in marketing. My whole work world revolves around finding ways to inform prospects about what we do and who we are as a company. My co-worker Sarah, however, is in IT. She spends her days making sure clients are able to understand and use our CRM efficiently.
One of my favorite things about NTC this year was going back to our hotel room afterwards and talking about what we learned that will be able to help the company as a whole, not just how what we learned will help our individual departments. Talking to someone from a different area about what I learned opened up the discussion and brainstorming to how it can be focused in different areas and ways. It was great, and we probably spent a few hours each night just brainstorming and having great conversations around the potentials of implementing new ideas.
If you aren’t able to attend with someone else from another area of your organization, connect with another attendee at the conference who is in a different role and try bouncing ideas off of them. Leverage those networking opportunities!
Don’t be afraid to leave a bad session – Have a back-up plan
Unfortunately, not every session you attend will live up to what you hoped and dreamed it would. Attending a disappointing session is bound to happen to you at some point or another. Just make sure that when it does, you feel comfortable leaving. You’re paying to be at the conference, don’t waste your time/money in a session where you aren’t gaining anything from it.
Once you leave the session, don’t feel like you have to go to another session if there isn’t anything in that time slot that looks good to you. You can use that time to: visit the exhibit hall, catch up on your work email, jot down more in depth notes of the great sessions you have attended so far at the conference.
Make an action plan of what you’ll bring back, while you’re still at the conference
As I mentioned above, my co-worker and I spent a lot of time in the evenings talking about what we learned. But we also cracked open the laptop and started jotting down important concepts and ideas that we wanted to bring back. Each day we were learning new things, and we wanted to make sure that we wouldn’t forget any great ideas that we were brainstorming. If we waited until the conference was done, there would have most likely been some really exciting ideas that we wouldn’t have remembered once we were back in the office. You can only store so much new info before it starts leaking out a bit.
We made a list of ideas we thought we needed to bring back individually to our departments, and ideas we wanted to share with the whole group together. We then scheduled a time to go over the list once we got back and fleshed out exactly what we were going to say to staff.
Spend time in the exhibit hall
thedatabank wasn’t an exhibitor at this year’s NTC, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t spend time in the hall as attendees. It was great to introduce ourselves to vendors and partners that we work with frequently, but hadn’t met in person before. This is the same for nonprofits. Take some time to say hello and put a face to the vendors that you work with. Especially products that you use frequently – whether it’s a CRM, email application, payment gateway, etc. If you have questions about your system, getting a chance to talk to them in person can be extremely helpful. Also, they enjoy meeting their clients in person too! Trust us, we know from experience.
Overall, my biggest takeaway to keep in mind about conferences is that it isn’t just the sessions that are the most important part of the conference – it’s the conversations that are created because of those sessions. Take great notes, and create an action plan of what you’re going to do with that information once you get back.