Making the most of conferences

Next week sees the biggest annual gathering of Canadian fundraisers at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. AFP Congress brings three days of learning, networking and inspiration to over 1,000 individuals, who in turn will share their experiences with their co-workers. It’s a fabulous experience and one which I look forward to every year.

I have attended quite a number of conferences over the years as you can imagine, so I thought I’d share with you my top tips on how to make the very best of your time at Congress. 

  • Plan your day. There are so many great sessions to choose from but it’s important to be clear on what you want to hear about. You might want to perfect your skills in the type of fundraising you are working in, or you might want to find out about another fundraising discipline or experience some big picture thinking. Whatever it is, make sure you read the program and the session descriptions carefully and make a plan right at the start of the day on what you are going to do.
  • Plan your route. Conference venues are big places and the Metro Toronto Convention Centre is no exception. Make sure you know how to get to the room where your chosen sessions are taking place and leave plenty of time to get there. It’s a great opportunity to clock up plenty of steps – so remember to wear comfortable shoes!
  • Keep an open mind. There is always something to learn from a session. Even if you find yourself familiar with the content, think about the style of the presenter or if there is anything you like about their slides or other visual aids.
  • Go to the plenary sessions. The aim of these is to inspire you and make you feel like you can conquer the world! You won’t necessarily learn anything that you can apply to your work, but they will make you feel amazing and motivated – that’s their intention.
  • Complete your session evaluation forms. Congress can only be as good as the sessions submitted and the Congress Board – and the speakers – really value the feedback you make. It helps make the following year’s Congress or the next time a speaker delivers a session even better. The few minutes you spend writing down your thoughts could have a big impact.
  • Visit the exhibitors. Do make time to walk around the exhibition area and chat to the exhibitors. Believe me it can be a long and lonely day on a booth and so stop by and see what’s on offer – it’s much quicker than trawling online for that badge supplier or fulfilment company.
  • Talk to other delegates. It really is a wasted opportunity if you spend the entire time talking to the colleagues you’ve come with. So ask the person you are sitting next to at the start of a session where they work and what they have enjoyed so far. And don’t forget to invite them after Congress to connect via Linked In, or check out if they have a Twitter feed.
  • Forget your day job. When I first started attending conferences, it really was a time to forget the email and priorities of the working day. No cell phones and no wifi meant you could focus on some personal development and reflect on what you were hearing without distraction. Those days are long gone – however the benefit of total immersion in the Congress without getting dragged back into that email squabble between two colleagues is indisputable. So turn off your technology!
  • Take the learning away and share it. It’s a big investment for your organization to send you to Congress, so make this valuable for your wider team as well as yourself. Why not set up a session a couple of weeks after Congress to share the sessions you most enjoyed ad the top tips you learnt with your colleagues?

The THINK Canada team will be at Congress across the three days, so please come and find us at booth 313! If you’d like a more detailed chat, please get in touch by emailing – we’d love to arrange a catch up with you over a coffee.
We look forward to seeing you and hearing about your Congress experience.

Michelle Chambers is THINK Canada's Director, and Managing Director of THINK Consulting Solutions. You can meet her here.