Congrats! You graduated, landed your first job and are fast on your way to becoming a full-fledged member of the public relations industry. After you settle into #agencylife, you might be wondering how to keep bettering yourself and your skillset in the field – and that’s where continuing professional development comes into play.
Attending professional development events (think conferences, summits, workshops, panels, etc.) is a mutually beneficial activity for both you and your company. You, the employee, learn new tips and tricks of the trade while networking with other industry pros. In turn, you bring fresh takes and new connections back to your employer.
By 2025, millennials will make up 75% of the workforce, and according to the 2018 Workplace Learning Report by LinkedIn, 87% of millennials say that professional development is important. Although PR practitioners at any level can attend professional development events, it’s wise to seek out events that are in your area of expertise – or the area of expertise you want to be in. This was the case for me and my colleagues as we attended a PRSA New Professionals Summit this July.
Squeezing Every Drop of Utility out of the Event
Just like for everything else in PR, there are best practices for getting the most out of a professional development event. Preparation? You betcha!
So, you did your research and found the perfect event to attend. What’s next?
Here are some helpful tips on how to make the most of a professional development experience – before, during and after the event.
Tech PR Pre-Event Prep
By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. It sounds a bit extreme, but there’s truth to Benjamin Franklin’s famous line. In order to fully leverage the professional development event, start by getting your ducks in a row. There are several action items to do both in and out of the office before you attend the event.
First – the scary stuff. Do your due diligence and make a thoughtful case to your supervisor/boss about why you want to attend the event, covering both how it will benefit you as a professional and how it will translate into a benefit for your company.
By making a serious business case for attending the event, your supervisor will see you flex your “managing-upward” muscles and likely appreciate your enthusiasm for wanting to further your know-how. Building a good case for attendance will go a long way toward justifying the time and money required to attend. If they’re awesome, like GMG, they will not only allow you to attend, but they’ll cover the costs and not require you to use PTO.
Try not to overthink it – pitching, after all, is a major part of what we do in tech PR! Outline the purpose of the event, why you want to attend, what you expect to learn and how you expect it to benefit your company. Also, be sure you include any other details your boss might find useful.
Once you get the thumbs up, thank them for the opportunity! Next, register and pay for the event. Make sure everything at the office is squared away before you attend, including setting your out-of-office message and handing off tasks to the appropriate contact(s).
In the weeks prior to the event, get organized. Peruse the program once it’s available. If you have to choose among sessions, pick a few “must-sees” (i.e., if you’re in tech PR, prioritize any tech-related sessions) and be flexible with other “maybes.”
Who knows – you might change your mind the day of the event and want to attend a different session, or the session might fill up. Being adaptable will help set realistic expectations and prevent any letdowns.
Next, you’ll pre-network the event. Research the speakers, explore their bios and follow their social media accounts. Decide what you need to bring, including but not limited to: business cards, your laptop, a notebook and writing utensils. Whether you’re driving, taking public transportation or hailing a cab/using a rideshare service, map out how to get there on time, where to park or be dropped off and how and where to check in.
Don’t forget to dress to impress. After you register, you’ll likely receive an email detailing the event, including what level of dress to wear. Keep in mind the season, check your preferred weather app in advance, and remember – it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed!
Most importantly, set goals before the event. They can be as simple as “participate in one session” or as challenging as “secure a new business opportunity.” Once you set a goal or two, you’ll have a sense of direction and overarching purpose heading into the event, as well as criteria against which you can evaluate your work. If you’ve taken all of the steps outlined so far, you’ll be much more likely to succeed!
At the Event
So, you’ve done your homework – figuratively speaking – and today’s the big day. Though you might feel confident due to your thorough preparations, use these day-of-event tips to ensure you make a good impression, absorb as much knowledge as possible and leave with a refreshed perspective on all things PR.
Just like with any business activity (or personal, if we’re being honest), you must arrive on time. And by on time I mean early, because on time is actually late, and late is unacceptable. Do everyone a favor and silence your phone to avoid distracting yourself and other attendees. Surely, unless you have to be readily available for something work-related – like a media interview or client call – it can wait. Be present and put your phone away. Now, actively engage through note-taking and participation.
You will get out of it what you put in!
Live tweeting and posting on LinkedIn and other professional social media accounts is another great way to network throughout the day. Use relevant hashtags, follow and tag appropriate people and share photos to engage with your audience. Of course, this isn’t a substitute for true networking. Make an effort to meet with panelists, speakers and other attendees during breaks and meals – be curious and ask questions!
Once the event is over, you can kick back and relax – psych! You thought that was it?
There are plenty of follow-up opportunities to utilize. Perhaps the event has a meet-up later that evening; this would be a good time to meet people and exchange business cards.
Later on, connect with your newfound contacts on LinkedIn. It helps to send a personal note with a highlight of what you discussed to refresh their memory on who you are. It doesn’t stop there – keep in touch! Ask to catch up for coffee, see if you can tour where they work or meet up at another upcoming event in the area, if they are local.
To get even more out of your experience, follow up on what you learned at the event. Consider taking classes and attending supplementary webinars with related content. You could also write a blog or prepare a presentation about your experience, like I’m doing (so #meta)! Thank the people you learned from, spoke to and those you found particularly inspiring.
It might seem like a lot of work, but putting effort, preparation and follow-up into your development is a recipe for success. Now that you’re ready for your next professional development event, enhance your tech PR skills with these 5 essential elements of tech PR.