I recently got back from a large conference that had well-known keynote speakers, topics led by subject matter experts, and break-out sessions that engaged and spurred conversation. Here are a few thoughts/lessons learned from the experience:

1. Network as much as possible. 
Take the opportunity to have lunch, dinner or a glass of wine with people you’ve never met before to capitalize on their experiences and knowledge. I typically try to reach out to people from companies larger than First Business Financial Services. I pick their brains on processes and projects they’ve implemented and ask them to share advice and lessons learned about their successes.

Sometimes just talking to peers helps validate that something I’m doing isn’t that far off! For example, I met about ten bankers that all work at banks slightly larger than First Business. We were discussing enterprise risk management scorecards and how to measure operational and compliance risk.

At First Business Bank, we have various metrics to measure both compliance risk and fraud as it relates to operational risks. I shared what First Business was using for key risk indicators, as well as the baseline we used to build our key performance indicator tolerance levels. I found out that these metrics were what others were using as well. I was both able to validate the risk indicator and feel good about the key risk indicator choice I’d made.

With everyone I meet, I am sure to ask for business cards and contact information. I also let them know I’m happy to reciprocate if they have questions in the future that I could help with. Afterwards, I connect with them via LinkedIn as another way to keep in touch.

2. Visit with vendors. 
There aren’t always vendors at conferences, but if there are, be sure to check out the latest and greatest in new technology, products and services. The old adage is true: “You don’t know what you don’t know”.

Sometimes I may have a need for the vendor’s products that I didn’t even know I had. Sometimes someone else in my company may have a need. And sometimes I can see how we can become better or more efficient with an existing system or process just by talking to the vendor.

3. Stay until the end of the conference. 
At conferences, no one is taking attendance to check to see if someone is playing hooky! Oftentimes conferences are at nice locations like San Diego, Washington, DC, or Orlando, where it would be tempting to skip out of the sessions and go enjoy the sites.

However, your employer is probably paying a tidy sum for you to go to the conference, so I believe attendance should be viewed as an opportunity to grow professionally and meet new people.

At the conference I attended, I noticed attendance on the last day was dwindling. The final session was down about 30% from the group of original attendees. The session was an executive summary of the previous three days’ sessions on what information to share with the bank’s Board of Directors. Simply by attending that session I saved a ton of time because I didn’t need to create my own summary to share with my colleagues at First Business Bank.

Conferences are opportunities to network, see the latest and greatest products and technology, and to grow professionally. I take advantage of those opportunities anytime I can. I hope you do too.