Conference season is upon us once again! Trade shows are a valuable time to network, learn, and connect. Here are seven points to help get the most out your time away from the farm.

1. Make a Plan
You’re taking valuable time away from your farm, so make sure you’ve done your homework ahead of time to ensure you’re going to get the most out of the conference. Look up attendees, sponsors, and sessions to determine what are can’t miss connections and sessions. Reach out to your network and promote your attendance on social media. Last, print out, write down, or keep track on your phone of who you want to see and be on the lookout for them during the event.

2. Don’t Get Carded
Right after you Make Your Plan, take an inventory of business cards, and reorder if necessary. Bring lots to the show, you’re going to need them! Even stash them in every pocket in your luggage so you’re not caught without.

3. It Starts Before You Arrive
Networking starts before you even arrive. It’s not uncommon to see fellow attendees in transit to a conference. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and make plans to meet up once you arrive at the conference.

4. It’s time to eat!
Use this time wisely. Avoid using lunch breaks as time to catch up on emails or as time to debrief with teammates. Breaks are prime networking time! Always use this time to sit and eat with people you haven’t engaged with yet. Take it a step further. Sit with a group of people, introduce yourself, and start socializing.

5. Be A Social Butterfly
Attend pre- and post-function gatherings, breakfasts, cocktail receptions — everything. We’re all tired after full day of sessions and roaming the trade show floor, but these gatherings are great places to meet new people. Remember, most people are thinking the same thing , they’re tired, but they don’t want to lose the opportunity to make new connections.

6. 15 Minutes Early is On Time; On time is late
Arrive to sessions 15 minutes early. You’ll be the only one in the room… with the speaker. This can be a great way to quickly network with people you might not otherwise get time with. If there is time after the sessions, use that time to chat as well. Anytime that you have to network, USE IT!

7. Facilitate the Discussion
If you know someone that a fellow attendee is trying to meet, provide an introduction. This sets you up as a valuable contact for both parties, further positioning yourself as a go-to resource. People you connect are most likely to return the favor down the road.

Go in with a solid plan, put yourself out there, and don’t be afraid to help drive the discussion. You’ll be gaining new relationships within the industry and you’ll be bringing back new ideas, and new experiences to your farm.