Making the most of the conferences you attend

Each year, the months of September and October seem to serve as conference season. In the last 60 days, each staff member from Empower Missouri has attended at least one summit, gathering, or conference on a variety of topics. JMO, our executive director, and Christine Woody, our Senior Policy and Advocacy Lead, recently attended a conference focused on TANF in Washington, D.C. You can read about it here. Chloe Owens, the newest addition to the Empower Missouri team, hosted an in-person gathering for the HIV Justice Coalition, and I attended two conferences, one focused on our engagement database, and another focused on non-profit communications and marketing strategy.

These conferences often pull us away from our work for at least a full day, and sometimes an entire week when travel is included. We have to set our “out-of-office” message on our emails, making sure that everyone knows that we’re going to be slow to respond. This can hamper productivity, and leave some coworkers, donors, or volunteers without a response for days. Conferences can also be costly. Registration, travel, and hotel fees can add up pretty quickly. 

So why do we attend conferences? Are they even worth it?

The answer, obviously, is yes. Attending a conference is absolutely one of the best ways to gain new knowledge, build a more robust toolkit, and connect with peers who can help bring your work to the next level. 

Here are a few ways that you can take advantage of every conference you attend:

· Bring a lot of business cards, and give them to every single person you meet. Every person at a conference that you talk with knows something you don’t know. Even if you aren’t sure you’ll ever contact them again, make sure you exchange business cards. You never know when you might need to reach out to them for some help.

· Bring a notebook and several pens. We retain information much better when we write things down. Each session you attend at a conference, you should write down the name of the speaker, the topic, and any new knowledge you gain. Even if you get a hand out during the session, write things down in your own words so you can recall them better when you need to.

· Bring a portable charger. Anyone who follows @EmpowerMissouri on twitter knows that we LOVE to live-tweet committee hearings and conference sessions. You may not be live-tweeting, but you don’t want to be the attendee who is looking for an outlet during a session because your phone is about to die. 

· Follow the speakers on social media beforehand. If you get a list of speakers and workshops before a conference, be sure to follow them on Twitter and Facebook before the event so you can get a good idea of what they’ll be discussing during their presentation.

This year, Empower Missouri is hosting our annual conference, Building Blocks for Missouri’s Success, on November 9th. Ellen Teller from the Food Research & Action Center in Washington, D.C. is serving as keynote speaker. We also have an incredible lineup of workshops, including an exclusive first look at the 2019 Hunger Atlas, which visually engages readers to better understand hunger in Missouri. 

If you’re interested in attending our conference, please register here. Tickets are available until the conference begins at 10am on Saturday, Nov. 9th. We hope to see you there!

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