There's a common thought among many business owners, and that's "conventions are boring." Business conventions are an occasion to collect branded pens and stationary, a bunch of business cards you'll never look at again, and a backlog of work you would much rather be doing back home.

Then you look online, and see some of the biggest names in business celebrating conventions and expounding upon the benefits, connections and ideas they gathered while attending. We often think to ourselves, "Did we attend the same convention?" With such dramatically different outcomes, it seems as though we reside in separate realities.

The fact of the matter is, you can make conventions work for you. All it takes is a combination of a changed outlook and a few good habits. Do the right things, have the right attitude, and you can be one of those dramatic examples of success.

1. Schmooze with the Right People

Before you visit a convention, you should have some idea of who will be there. Identify important people to network with, track them down as best you can, and make those connections. It's better to spend time making new friends than it is hanging out with old ones.

2. Relish the Ridiculous

A few years ago, the idea of a WiFi connected thermostat would have made anyone laugh, but Nest and the Internet of Things have no doubt made many regret that laughter. What ridiculous new idea can be leveraged into the trends of the future? How can you be the one to leverage it?

3. Bring Insight to the Table

You should have a loose idea of what you're going to do when you attend a convention. Prepare for events by coming up with insightful questions you'd like answered. See if they're answered naturally, and pursue answers if they aren't.

4. Make Room for Seminars, Speeches and Classes

Conventions are made up of scheduled events, and you should have a plan for attending those that are important to you, your business, and your industry. Avoid the overly generic; attend the specific. If you're listening to a lecture on a subject and could be delivering it, you're in the wrong event.

5. Make Small Talk Big

Every time you strike up a conversation with someone, it's a chance to network, exchange contacts, and brainstorm ideas. The more time you waste with meaningless small talk, the less benefit you're bringing to your business.

6. Contribute!

Many events will allow you to submit something, be it a paper, a panel idea, a workshop proposal, or even just a question to be discussed during a lecture. Try to submit your own material and participate in a way beyond just sitting in the audience and listening. You might even consider volunteering.

7. Attend Workshops

Workshops are important, serious discussions with actual evidence, statistics, data and experiences on the block. By participating in workshops, you can make connections, gain insight and get assistance in ways you might never have seen otherwise. The connections made during workshops can be amazing down the line.

8. Plan a Flexible Schedule

While you should plan what you intend to do, which events to attend and who to track down ahead of time, you should also have flexibility in your schedule. Don't pack yourself so tight you don't have time to expand your network. Likewise, don't be afraid to bail out on a seminar in favor of a more lucrative spontaneous opportunity.

9. Find Something Unexpected

Every convention has something off in a corner, going on where it wasn't as widely publicized, or scoffed at for its off-beat approach. Many of these, sure, aren't going to be very valuable. Still, you should make room for something unexpected, something new, something off the beaten path to see where it might lead you.

10. Publish Analytical Retrospectives

Try to come up with an analytical perspective for the events and experiences you have during your conference. Blog posts are great for short-term trending, popular insights into conference events. Social media is excellent for short bursts of information, insight, and wisdom. If you're blogging more about the after party or the lunch menu, you're wasting your opportunities.

11. Make Use of What You Learned

A convention doesn't end when it's over. Even if a conference takes place in Vegas, what happens there doesn't stay there. Take your knowledge, take your connections, and make something out of them once you're home. If you don't apply what you've gained, you're getting nothing out of the whole experience.

Published on: Sep 3, 2015