As association leaders, we are used to being on the planning side of things for association conferences and events. When attending other association events, we can often be guilty of looking at things through a planner’s eye rather than actively participating as a delegate. The following is meant to serve as a guide to help association leaders get the most out of attending educational events as delegates.


Before the Event

What to Pack

Although I am a firm believer of less-is-more when it comes to packing, I am not here to convince the over-packer to change their ways. Instead, here is a short list of essentials to bring when attending an association event:

  • Comfortable shoes – you can earn your steps quite quickly at an association event as you move through breakout rooms and the exhibit hall. Make sure you are wearing shoes that can comfortably take you from educational sessions to an evening reception.
  • Layers – event venues are notorious for extreme temperature fluctuations. Be prepared and plan to wear layers to the event so that you can dress up or down depending on the room’s conditions.
  • Business cards – lots of them! You meet so many people at these events. I like to jot down notes about the individual I am meeting on their business card for future reference.
  • Charger – most association events now have a mobile app and speaker presentations are often accessible through that as well. Ensure that your device has enough power to get through the day’s events while being able to make use of the mobile content.


More often than not you register for an association event months before it is taking place. It is not surprising then when you find yourself forgetting which session you selected and what topics are being covered. It is important to go back and check your registration closer to the event to refresh your memory. Once you do that, take a few minutes and task yourself with some action items that you would like to accomplish at the event. What are some educational takeaways or personal connections that you would like to achieve at the event? Having a clear set of goals established ahead of time will make realizing them that much more realistic.

Once you have verified your registration and established your educational agenda, take a look at the networking opportunities connected with the event. Download the event app and follow any social media pages linked to the event. There will be some activity on those pages leading up to the event that could be beneficial to your participation. You can even reach out to other delegates using these mediums to set up some informal meetings during the event. Plan ahead so that meeting opportunities are not missed onsite.


During the Event


Depending on the association event, networking opportunities can have even greater takeaways than the educational sessions. Make sure you take advantage of these opportunities as it is rare to find that many decision makers and resources in the same room at one time. Meet up with connections that you had pre-arranged meetings with before the event and find individuals that you had flagged from the registration list. Strategic networking can result in excellent business opportunities.

Stay On Top of Action Items

During a busy association event, it is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle and find yourself simply going through the motions. Take the time to refer back to your action items and keep yourself honest. Maybe organize these items in a note in your phone so that you can check them off as you go and remind yourself of what you are looking to accomplish.

Take Notes

Between educational sessions and networking opportunities, association events can result in information overload. Find a system that works for you to jot down a few notes that you can reference when you get back to the office. These could be key words or names that will remind you of specific points or people to follow up with.


After the Event

Recap and Share with Colleagues

I can only speak for myself, but I would argue that a number of association event attendees take notes only to never look at them again. To enhance the educational takeaways for yourself and your colleagues, I would encourage you to sit down and discuss some key points from the event. Discussing these takeaways out loud encourages greater recollection of the information and allows your colleagues, who may not have been in attendance at the event, to learn as well.

Reach Out to Connections

Reach out to any professional connections that were made at the association event as soon after the event as possible. Contact those individuals while your name and conversation are still fresh in their mind. Speakers often will share their contact information with delegates at the close of their session as well, so if there were any speakers that you wanted to work with or follow up with, do so before they are engaged in their next event. Establishing these connections right after the event ensures that those individuals are still invested in that event and are more likely to continue the conversation with you.

It is a change of gears attending an association event as a delegate rather than a planner, however it is important to do so, not only for the educational content and networking opportunities available, but also to see how other associations are doing things. You can never completely take your planner’s hat off, but developing a few tricks can ensure a greater attendee experience as an association leader.