It’s conference season! Think again if you think the best things about conferences are the goody bag and ‘80s flashback night. Conferences can be an incredible opportunity to accelerate our careers. Here’s how.

Paid vacay

While not exactly a relaxing vacation, conferences are paid time away from work. Time away from work provides a break from our routines.

This simple but significant change is a great first step to refreshing our perspective. So, put on the out of office message and embrace limited availability as a chance to take a real break from the everyday routine. At the very least, we can return with a renewed outlook on our current situation.


Most conferences are scheduled out to the minute, with pre- and post-conference activities, early morning breakout sessions and special evening events. In other words, by attending a conference we are trading our usual busy for a new busy.

In addition to providing some perspective (and a reality check on our stamina), diving in to the myriad professional development, networking and structured fun opportunities are like a creativity boot camp. Time alone in the hotel room is a great opportunity to consider how all these new concepts can be applied at work.

Thus, armed with ample new ideas and an understanding of how they affect our role and organization, we can return to the office inspired and ready to inspire.


Conferences are not just great for a break from work and a little professional perspective. Such events are the perfect time to recalibrate — or set — our professional goals.

Whether it is a small working session or a keynote, we are surrounded by people in our field who do what we do. Odds are some of them are further along than we are or have taken their careers in a way we did not consider, in which case we have ready-made mentors at our disposal.

Similarly, some attendees are where we were earlier in our careers, giving us the opportunity to give back. Thus, we can use this as an opportunity to set SMART professional goals that include the next phase in our career and helping someone else in theirs.

And finally, conferences are also a great time to connect with organizations, vendors and experts that can help us achieve those professional goals. Whether it is a new job or help advancing in our current company, making an initial connection with a resource in-person is a great way to start a relationship.

Next steps

To ensure conference attendance is a boon — not a bust — requires a little legwork upfront. Prepare ahead by picking a conference that allows you to be physically away. Look for one with topics that can help with current challenges as well as innovative or extra sessions that are outside the norm.

Ideally, this could include a breakout session on a specialized topic that we only wished we had more time to explore. Then, it is imperative to research the vendors, speakers and companies in attendance and make note of anyone or anything that can help create or advance our professional goals.

The introverts among us should be sure to plan downtime during or after the event and very targeted scripts or plans to connect with any key people. The extroverts among us should plan to take advantage of every extra networking event and stand out by creating and knowing a bit about our target list of contacts.

The bottom line is that our professional successes require a sustainable approach and clear goals. Conferences can help in both aspects.