Well, it's NADA convention time again. Time to brush up on the latest developments, renew old acquaintances, and have some fun at the same time.

Ever wonder, though, whether you're getting the most out of your convention? If so, use these handy suggestions to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities the event can offer you:

  • Conduct a personal “needs analysis.” Think about the problems and challenges you've faced over the last year — and keep these in mind as you select workshops and seminars during the convention.

  • Prepare a master convention portfolio. That folder should contain a convention schedule, a map of the facilities, notepaper, samples of items you're bringing along, and any other information you might need regularly. Carry your folder with you throughout your convention.

  • Read about presenters before you attend their workshops. Read about workshop and seminar leaders in your convention bulletin. Learn about their backgrounds and interests, and you'll better prepare yourself for their presentations.

  • Sit in a strategic location during workshops. Sit where you can gain a clear, unobstructed view of the speaker — and where you can offer the speaker nonverbal feedback during her presentation. For most people, this means sitting near the front of the room.

  • Ask questions. A good workshop will always leave you brimming with new information and ideas. But remember: a workshop also gives you the opportunity to ask questions of experts and colleagues, and add even more value to the gathering.

  • Don't take too many notes. That's right: watch out for excess note-taking. Your natural inclination during a convention seminar might be to take notes on just about everything you hear. But notebooks overly packed with data and information will only end up in your file cabinet or closet. Take notes on key points only. These brief, power-packed notes will be useful when you're back at your desk.

  • Keep an idea log. It should be separate from your general seminar notes. In this log, enter useful “action strategies,” or items to research or follow up on. Carry the log with you at all times, even when you're not in formal seminars — and enter useful ideas as they're triggered by someone's comments. Later, you can use the log as an action resource.

  • Meet as many speakers and presenters as possible. Perhaps you can converse with a speaker for a few minutes after his or her talk. Or arrange to meet for lunch. Keep your personal “needs analysis” in mind as you discuss issues with the speaker. Listen for one or two great ideas or suggestions during these conversations.

  • Visit exhibitors twice. During your first visit, take casual notice of the products and services offered by exhibitors. Pick up literature. Ask a few questions. Later, study the material you pick up, make a list of more detailed questions, and plan for a return visit the next day — when you'll be prepared to study specific products in greater depth.

  • Carry an ample supply of business cards. You never know when you'll have the opportunity to discuss a business deal, acquire information from an acquaintance, or set up post-convention business. From your handy supply, you can hand out cards to anyone who might need or want your address and telephone number later. And don't forget: a personal note or reference you jot on a business card will be kept much longer than a note your acquaintance writes on a piece of scrap paper.

  • Bring along your appointment calendar. You never know, too, when you might have the opportunity to set up an important meeting with a vendor or colleague.

  • Get enough rest and exercise. Don't kid yourself: almost any change in your routine can be tiring, even stressful. Conventions, which are so full of stimulation and physical activity, can be doubly tiring. Try to maintain as close to a normal work schedule as possible. If your hotel offers exercise opportunities, take them. And be sure to get as close to a good night's sleep as possible each day of the convention.

  • Make action notes. When you hear a tip that you can put into practice, or a follow up suggestion from a colleague, write yourself an “action note” — and place it in your wallet or appointment calendar. Your action notes will become an important part of your post-convention agenda.

  • See the sights. Hopefully, you've already identified the key sights and tourist attractions of New Orleans. When you arrive, carefully budget your time for local travel.

  • Share your knowledge and insights with others. Before you leave for home, make a list of key insights you've gained — and resolve to share them with colleagues back in the office. The result: you'll get an even greater return on the time and money you invested in the convention, and you'll build goodwill among your colleagues.

    Your convention can bring you personal and professional renewal. Seize the opportunities it offers, and it will bring you tremendous benefits long after you return home.