Seeking out professional development opportunities is essential for the modern-day career woman. From webinars to continuing education or conferences and workshops, you must stay current and continue to grow in order to remain relevant in a competitive market.
Professional development can also be a retreat for your mind, body and career spirit. It's a great opportunity to expand your network, get motivated to act on your goals and reignite a career passion that may have lost its luster.
There are a myriad of amazing professional development conferences for women this season, but those large events can be daunting if you don't know how to get the most from the experience. Here are some tips to help you navigate a conference and enjoy the experience without getting overwhelmed.
Ask Your Employer to Pay - You'll never get it if you don't ask! Most employers are willing to pay at least something towards your professional development if you can showcase how this will help you be successful in your current role. Offer to come back to the office and share your experience and best practices with others in the company to increase the return on their investment. Even if you don't have a professional development budget, many organizations offer grants and scholarships for this purpose. If all else fails, pay yourself and consider it an investment in your career future. Talk to your accountant about declaring it as an itemized deduction on your taxes.
Research the Presenters in Advance - Large conferences often have so many speakers it can be difficult to pare down to a manageable list of sessions you can actually attend. Do your homework in advance, since professional speakers have websites with video footage and examples of their work. This can help you make a wise decision in advance about who will resonate the most with you and help you move forward on your professional path at the event.
Set a Professional Goal - If you haven't set any short or long term goals recently, dust off your dreams and consider what you want your professional future to look like before you attend the conference. This can be a great opportunity to gain resources, foster new relationships and make connections that will help you on your professional journey. Give yourself a little advance dreamtime to consider what you really want, then you can capitalize on this when you are onsite at the event.
Meet New People - You will have hundreds of new people at your disposal so network up a storm and meet people outside of your existing professional posse. Even if you go to the conference with colleagues or friends, don't feel compelled to stay with them the entire time. Build new relationships -- be ready to talk about what you do well, and what you are looking for since the environment will be ripe for new experiences.
Business Cards - Bring as many cards as you can carry and be ready to hand them out! If you are job searching and don't have a company card, print personal cards and take advantage of starting fresh with new introductions that don't tether you to a particular organization. Keep the cards you collect safe and be ready to follow-up within 48 hours after the event.
Follow- Up Afterwards - Studies show that 90% of people who meet at a conference never follow-up with the new contacts they make. Don't let the business cards you collect get dusty -- follow up within a few days. Invite new connections to join you on LinkedIn or send a personal email. Better yet - call someone you really want to maintain communication with and start by reminding them about how and where you met.
Try Something New - Advance research can be a great way to streamline your conference experience, but expand your comfort zone a little by trying something new. Whether it's a session topic you don't know much about or a social event that forces you to take a risk -- you just might learn something new and meet interesting people along the way.
Take Some Time for Yourself - Remember that you can run yourself ragged at these events attending sessions from dawn till dusk. Part of your professional development is honoring your mind, body and spirit. Perhaps this can be a great opportunity to catch up on uninterrupted sleep if an overnight is involved or to unplug from email for a day to really honor your precious time away. You must prioritize yourself and what you need to do in order to return to work refreshed and rejuvenated.
What do Martha Stewart, Charlotte Beers and I have in common?
We'll each be speaking at the inaugural Indiana Governor's Conference for Women on November 5th in Indianapolis. I am honored to join an extraordinary line-up of dignitaries, national thought leaders and iconic business leaders speaking at the largest women's conference in the Midwest.
Martha Stewart and Charlotte Beers are the star power keynoters of this event. Huffington Post's own Lisa Belkin will lead a session on the Third Metric -- redefining success beyond money and power. Spencer Stuart CEO, Jim Citrin will talk about The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers and lead a conversation with national women leaders in business. Margaret Heffernan will share her wisdom about the naked truth of leadership and the Dolphin Tank session will showcase women entrepreneurs and how to get funded.
I'll be speaking about Career Transformations and how to reignite an existing career passion, or reinvent in a brand new direction. The conference offers community, connection and inspiration to women who are passionate about achieving new career goals, expanding or launching a business, and catalyzing personal growth. The full conference agenda can be accessed here.
In a competitive career climate where great job opportunities are scarce and the realities of work/life integration make getting through each day a challenge, professional development can be your opportunity to recharge and reignite your professional passion. Every woman needs professional development opportunities to keep her skills sharp, expand her professional community, and to give herself permission to put her dream career scenario into action.
Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is the Director of Professional Enrichment at the Indiana University Alumni Association and hosts the national CBS Radio Show Career Coach Caroline on Tuesdays at 5pm ET. Caroline also contributes to AOL Jobs, CNN Money, and More Magazine online and is working on a 3-pert series for Public Television on career empowerment for women. Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.