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If you’re planning to attend an upcoming Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conference or a different business conference, think about this: The work you do before the conference is just as important as what you do while you’re there. That's because your preparation can determine how much education you truly gain.

Here are five proactive steps you can take to maximize your conference experience:

  1. Practice your pitch. Ever bumped into someone in an elevator whom you’ve been dying to meet, but you became tongue-tied? Plan now for next time. Rehearse a 30-second “elevator speech” that you can call up when someone at a conference asks you about yourself.
  2. Share notes. Strike a deal with a co-worker or new conference buddy to split the agenda. Each of you attends different sessions and then shares notes and observations afterward. That way, you won’t be bound to attend only the workshops that are directly related to your comp and benefits job. Instead, you’ll be able to tap into some sessions just because they sound interesting, like work/life or diversity.
  3. Stay close. Most conferences are booked in warm, exciting locations, making it tempting to ditch the afternoon sessions to see the sights. Resist! Show up on time in the morning and stay until the evening social functions end. Attend group lunches and cocktail parties. You’ll learn more and meet more people. A tip: Stay at the host hotel, where you’ll have your best chance of running into other attendees.
  4. Pack your business cards. Hand them out liberally. And collect as many as you can. Use them to follow up with new acquaintances who might be able to advise you when you’re working on new projects. A networking idea: Sit next to people you don’t know rather than sticking with your co-workers.
  5. Raise your hand. Even if you’re not making a presentation at the conference, you can make yourself known to the audience by asking questions or offering observations during workshops and general sessions. Other attendees might seek you out later to follow up on the discussion.

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