How to Leave a Professional Conference with More Than a Free Tote Bag

By Emad Rahim, DM, PMP

CTU Professional DevelopmentThe greatest benefits of attending an academic or professional conference are the opportunities to build your network and increase your awareness of new trends happening in your area of interest. I had the pleasure of attending some wonderful conferences and tradeshows in 2012. This year, I plan to increase my conference participation not only by attending, but by presenting and volunteering as well.

I started 2013 with a bang: I participated in a multidisciplinary academic conference held at Harvard University. I co-authored a research paper on organizational stigma with my good friend and mentor, Dr. Darrell Burrell of George Mason University. We received an invitation to present our research findings at this year’s International Journal of Arts & Sciences Conference at Harvard University , a five-day academic conference with workshops and presentations on various topics. What I learned—in addition to the subjects presented at the conference—is that going to conferences is a vital component of professional development. Here’s why:

Conferences Grow Your Professional Network

I met scholars from representing dozens of universities, and my business network expanded accordingly. I had the opportunity to exchange ideas, share resources, participate in debates and develop friendships with people from all over the world. My Rolodex® now includes cards from faculty and administrators who hail from the London School of Economics, The American University in Cairo, the Canadian University of Dubai and beyond.  

Conferences Build Your Knowledge Base

I had the pleasure of attending some great presentations during the conference. Some of these presenters shared cutting-edge research on entrepreneurship, marketing, organizational development, technology, commerce and leadership. These research topics were often focused on a particular population, ethnic group or business culture that represented multiple countries. This allowed me to learn about all of the new things that are developing in other countries while expanding my current knowledge within my area of expertise.

Conferences Expand Your Resources

Just as with any other field, people in academics cultivate exceptional resources—and they’re excited to share them with likeminded colleagues.  During the conference, I had an opportunity to test out new technology, review upcoming publications, share teaching tools and techniques and obtain samples of textbooks, software and mobile applications.  Conferences are full of people promoting new ideas, vendors selling new products and consultants teaching new methodologies. I always take advantage of this opportunity to fill up my academic toolshed with new techniques and technology to improve my career.

Depending on the type of conference or tradeshow you attend, it’s possible also to gain career advice, recruit potential employees, negotiate deals and attend skill-building trainings and workshops.  Some conferences will even facilitate interview sessions with potential employers, and allow you to upload your resume and cover letter to a company’s website, as well as attend certification and licensing-preparation trainings.  For those seeking career advice and professional development within a specialization, try attending conferences hosted by trade associations like Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), Project Management Institute (PMI), American Management Association (AMA) or other specialized organizations within your field.

What have been your experiences attending conferences? Do you get the same value as I do, or do you experience something different? Or, if you have never attended a conference and have questions, please feel free to share.

Emad RahimEmad Rahim, D.M., PMP, is a PMI Certified Project Management Professional®. Dr. Rahim has more than 10 years of experience in business development, nonprofit administration, management consulting and project management.

Image Credit: Dr. Emad Rahim, right, pictured with Dr. Darrell Burrell of George Mason University, left, at the International Journal of Arts & Sciences Conference at Harvard University where they presented.

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