How to Get the Most from a Leadership Conference

About the author: Kat Smith is the Director of Communications at StartingBloc, a nonprofit leadership institute.

Leadership conferences are a great way to meet allies, learn new skills and develop healthy practices for your organization. You are in a room with other changemakers all set on improving their understanding of what leadership means and how they can improve. These conferences often require travel, accommodation and entry fees. If you are taking off from work and spending valuable time and money, you want to make sure you are getting the most out of the experience.

My name is Kat Smith and I am the Director of Communications for a non-profit leadership institute called StartingBloc. StartingBloc has been around for 12 years and has welcomed 2,500 Fellows from 56 countries to our Fellowship. We know a thing or two about getting the most from a conference! Here is our advice for walking away from a conference feeling full of vigor and insight.

Photo via

Photo via

Research avenues for financial assistance.

StartingBloc offers $25,000 in scholarships for each of its 4 Institutes. This is one of the ways we are able to create such diversity and inclusion in our program. In addition to scholarships like ours, many schools and employers are eager to pay for you to attend these conferences. Before you write off a conference as being ‘too expensive’, explore your options for funding.

Bring your whole self.

Leadership is becoming a holistic practice. Gone are the days where we punched in, did our work and punched out. We live in a highly connected world and the lines between work and life are increasingly blurred. The ability to be vulnerable and open with the people you meet at these conferences allows you to connect on a deeper level and learn more than you would if you were all business and sound-bites.

Arrive prepared.

In general, conferences can be overwhelming. You are inundated with new faces and information and have very few moments to collect yourself. In the weeks prior to the conference, study up on the speakers and familiarize yourself with the other participants and materials. Jot down a few questions you have and people you want to connect with before you arrive.

Take a break!

It can be tempting to try to push yourself to attend every single optional happy hour and strike up conversations during bathroom breaks. This is great, but consider taking a few ‘time-outs’ to go for a solo walk, steal away for a cup of tea or take a power nap. It might feel like you are missing out, but actually you are allowing yourself to process the information and make connections that you may not have seen had you been running around.

Follow Up.

You have reached the end of the conference and are still buzzing from the excitement of it all… then you go back to work and someone has a crisis and the copy machine is on fire and you spilled your coffee. Suddenly, the conference seems like years ago and you feel deflated. Before you get to this point, take a few hours immediately after the conference to follow up with the people you met. Reach out to mentors to continue conversations, look into leadership models that intrigued you, find a way to carry pieces of the experience home with you.

Interested in attending StartingBloc’s NOLA ‘16 Institute? Click here to learn more and apply! Scholarships applications are being accepted until February 4th.


This year’s Silicon Bayou 100 was made possible by sponsors 365 Connect, a leading provider of award-winning marketing, leasing and resident technology platforms for the multifamily housing industry, and LookFar, a software development studio. Beer from our beverage sponsor, the startup brewery Cajun Fire, will also be provided. 365 Connect Logo Lookfar Logo

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