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I love going to conferences. They give me a chance to indulge my curiosity, take endless notes and bring home a stack of books. I love that conferences give me the opportunity to travel, a chance to learn new things and energy as I soak up the excitement of everyone in the conference venue, at the vendor tables and from the stage.

I’ve gone to a lot of conferences over the years—both work-related and faith-based, but all that stopped when COVID-19 catapulted us into lockdown, social distancing and the virtual world of livestreaming events. While it took me a while to warm up to the idea, I’ve realized that the virtual conference has a lot to offer, most notably the cheaper price tag, time savings, and the comfort of conferencing from my living room couch.

In early 2021 as everything started opening back up, conferences slowly began reinstating in-person events. While I am thankful to return to the in-person conference, I’ve also realized that virtual conferences are likely here to stay. And when I think about it, I see this as an opportunity to experience the best of both formats.

As we approach fall, I’m already thinking about the conferences I’ll be attending (both in-person and virtually) this year. Knowing that conferences might be on your to-do list too, I wanted to share my list of best practices for making the most of your conference experience, whether it be in-person or virtual.

For your next conference (regardless of format):

  • Our goal should not be to learn just for learning’s sake, but to be transformed by the working of the Spirit through our conference experience. Pray that the Lord would put the right people in your path, place the right books in your hands and use this experience for the sake of your good and his glory. Pray also for the conference organizers, the worship team, other attendees and speakers. Remember that they are likely praying for you too.
  • Bring a notebook and a few favorite pens to take notes at the main sessions, the panels and breakout sessions. I’m a notetaker at heart, but I know not everyone loves taking notes. Regardless, jot down key points you never want to forget and those you want to take action on after the conference. Without notes, you are likely to remember only a handful of things and apply even less.
  • Take a few minutes over the days and weeks following the conference to review your notes. Highlight and mark things you want to be able to easily refer to later. Write down new ideas that come to mind.
  • Before too much time passes after the event, take 10-15 minutes to write a journal reflection about your biggest takeaways from the conference, how the Lord is using those to change you and a few things you want to put into practice.
  • Make a list of books and resources recommended at the conference in areas you want to dive into deeper.
  • Get to know others attending the conference. Conferences offer unique opportunities to meet new people and connect in new ways with people you already know. Take advantage of it.

For your next in-person conference:

  • Do your homework: Plan your schedule and breakout sessions in advance so you don’t have to waste time during the event trying to decide which sessions to attend.
  • Spread the conference love by taking a friend or going with your women’s ministry team. Be intentional as a group to attend different breakout sessions and to come together once or twice throughout the day to share and process what you are learning. I’ve developed some amazing friendships by attending conferences with others on our ministry team, and I’ve seen ministry ideas from informal brainstorming sessions turn into real ministry opportunities when we returned home.
  • Or go on your own for a change and use this to connect with the Lord, spending some time in much needed solitude in the evenings or pre/post-conference. Use it as a mini personal retreat.
  • Take advantage of the travel opportunity to explore. If you can, come early or stay an extra day to allow time to get to know and enjoy the host city.
  • Visit the conference book table and vendor booths. You can find some great deals, sign up for free giveaways, browse books to get a feel for what’s inside and talk with those around you to find your next great read. Don’t forget about all the great vendors whose sales often support causes (and people) all around the world.

For your next virtual conference:

  • Invite some friends over or host at your church. Be sure to check that your conference ticket allows for small group hosting. Hosting a virtual conference locally offers an opportunity for some to attend who might not have the time or funds to go out of town and allows you to connect with your local ladies in new ways.
  • If you are attending on your own, prepare your schedule and space in advance to allow you undistracted time to focus on the conference sessions and activities. One of the biggest drawbacks to a virtual conference is the ease with which everyday life can pull you away. Sure, you may be drawn to register by the promise of watching the sessions on your own time at a later date, but I’ve discovered my best chance to get the most from a virtual conference is while it’s being streamed live.
  • Lean into the conference as much as you can and take advantage of any special sessions (Did someone say live Q&A with the session speaker? Yes, please!) and features that the online platform affords.
  • Make a plan to go back and watch (or re-watch) sessions. One of the great advantages of the online conference is that free virtual pass that extends a few months, and sometimes longer, after the conference. Solidify what you have learned by re-watching favorite sessions and filling in your notes. Enjoy breakout sessions you were interested in but were unable to attend the first time around.
  • Finally, take advantage of any live breakout discussions that are offered. It may feel awkward and scary to be thrown into a virtual space with people you don’t know, but it will be worth your time. I’ve had some great conversations, made new connections and learned about resources I wouldn’t have known about apart from doing this.

If you don’t have your next conference experience lined up, might I recommend the SBTC EQUIP conference on August 14th at Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston or the She Stands Women’s Conference on October 9th at First Baptist Church, Forney. Both are incredible, in-person opportunities to be enriched and equipped to serve more effectively in your ministry context. As for that virtual conference experience you are eager to try out, the Lifeway Women’s Leadership Forum Virtual on November 11-13th would be a great place to start. Happy conferencing!

Do you have in-person or virtual conferences you would recommend? Let us know on the SBTC Women’s Ministry Facebook group.