Fitness conferences can be a great way to learn, earn CECs and connect with fellow fitness professionals. You receive new ideas and are kept abreast on the latest research and innovation in the industry. You leave filled with information that will help keep your classes fresh while delivering results to your students.
But fitness conferences can also be exhausting and overwhelming. I’ve attended my share of conferences over my 25 year career as a fitness professional and it’s not only an investment of your time but of your money and you want to get the most from that investment. I’ve compiled some tips to help you prepare for your next fitness conference, what to do while in attendance, as well as some post conference strategies that will help you benefit the most when you return from your conference. I also spoke with conference organizers and who share their tips and best practices.
Before you attend
It’s important to go in with a plan so you get the most from the event. Nora Anderson the owner of AAAI says it’s important “to prioritize what you want to achieve. There are so many exciting classes and certifications offered at conferences that people say that they want to do it all.” Since you can’t really do it all she encourages attendees “to focus on what they need for a job or what they need to enhance their career or personal knowledge.” Think about what is important. Erin Anderson from CanFitPro also encourages participants to “go in with a clear objective. Select your activities with a goal in mind.”
Know the schedule
Take a look at the program schedule. What presenters and topics are most important to you? Then, create a list of priority sessions or presenters. What sessions are “must attend” workshops? Maybe it’s a topic that you know you will use for your classes or maybe a presenter that you love and find always gives valuable content. Put those sessions at the top of your list. Then you will be able to fill in with other sessions that pique your interest. Now you can look at your overall schedule and see if it is balanced. Did you select a wide cross section of education and workshops balancing workouts and lectures? And remember to schedule adequate rest time between workout sessions and meals to fuel your body. Review your program lineup and make sure you have a balanced schedule. This will “ensure you have enough energy to immerse yourself in each session” according to Canfitpro.
And don’t forget to try something new. Carol Scott from ECA reminds us that “conference programming is the best in the business and just because you never heard of a presenter or program doesn’t mean you should pass it up – it could be the best thing you attend”. So step outside your comfort zone and try something you’ve never tried before.
Get social with the conference
If the conference offers and app, make sure you download it and join any social media groups they offer. You will be able to review your schedule, get updates, learn more about presenters, sessions, products and more. You can also connect with other attendees prior to arriving. I used the IDEA app before during and after IDEA’s One World.
Get your handouts
Once you know what sessions you will be attending you can print out your session handouts prior to the event. Many companies are going green like DCAC and provide session outlines available for download on their website prior to the conference. It is a perfect way to review and be prepared for all your sessions.
Know where you’re staying
When planning for your trip Scott suggests staying at the conference host hotel whenever possible. This makes it easy to change clothes and rest. You also won’t have to worry about traffic or parking issues and can be assured you will arrive on time for all your sessions.
Focus on the event. To get the most from the event try to give it 100% of your energy and focus. Let your family, friends and co-workers at home know you are unavailable and set your away message on your email. Trying to multitask will just distract you from getting the most from your conference. Attend all the sessions you planned to attend and use your down time for rest and relaxation rather then using that time to “catch up” on work and emails that can wait for when you return home.
Create muscle memory by participating in movement sessions. Then at the end of each session jot down any notes that will help you later. I also start a list of things I want to implement right away as well as rewrite any class plans and/or choreography notes at the end of each day. Your mind is being pulled in many directions: fitness formats, the science, management, nutrition, lectures, and more and it’s important to jot down your takeaways each day so you can refer back later. I’ve found that making short videos in my hotel room each evening recapping choreography taught in sessions is helpful to view later – much more useful than written notes.
Is your goal to network and meet new people? CanFitPro encourages you to find out what social events are happening at the event. You can bring business cards and practice your introduction prior to attending. The conference and trade show are a great networking opportunity so get out there and talk to as many new people as possible. “You can make great new contacts that can help your career” suggests Scott.
To have the most energy and be comfortable at an event requires preparation. Conference sessions are often cold so it’s important to dress in layers. DCAC suggests that you “bring a sweatshirt or cover-up with you to sessions each day in case you get cold during those times when you aren’t exercising”. It’s also a good idea to bring snacks to eat throughout your day. According to Scott “it is often hard to take enough time to get what you need and get to your next session on time” so having a variety of snacks on hand is vital to keep you fueled. Fitness conferences can be demanding on your body and your brain and you may not have a lot of downtime between each session. Make sure you’re staying hydrated and energized throughout the day.
And don’t forget to visit the expo – see what’s new and you can often get discounted or even free stuff!
Now that the conference is over it’s important to evaluate if it was a success for you. Did you find the sessions beneficial? Would it be worth it to attend this event in future years? I create a groundhog’s day list after each event. After every conference, I jot down what sessions I loved, which ones weren’t as beneficial, what things I’d do differently and create a plan for next year. It’s important to do this while it’s fresh in your mind. There are so many conferences and not all are a good fit for everyone. And because this is an investment of your time, energy and money it’s important to know if it’s a right fit for you and if it’s worth it for you to attend again.
I also find it helpful to take a day off to decompress: physically, mentally and emotionally. This is extremely important if you are an introvert. Being surrounded by all the energy and information is very draining and if you want to avoid burnout make sure you are recharging after you attend a conference. If you are attending a conference in your area simply schedule a personal day and review notes, relax maybe do something for yourself like a massage or a pedicure. Self care is vital.
If you are attending a conference in another city Scott suggests you “find out what else is going on in the area. For example at ECA we offer the event in the heart of times square and the theater district. You can make a night out or bring the family or friends for a work/vacation combo.”