This year’s annual National Sports Forum was hosted in the hip city of Portland, OR by the Portland Timbers and the Portland Trail Blazers. It was the third consecutive NSF Conference that I have attended, and they continue to get better year after year.

The NSF’s true value is what occurs outside of the provided schedule when attendees have opportunities to network. If you are considering attending this conference next year (PS, it will be in Minneapolis… in February), I recommend that you connect with other attendees that you wish to speak with prior to arriving at the conference. Having a set time to meet with someone is optimal, but even simply letting potential/current clients, vendors, or partners know that you will be in attendance is beneficial.

One of the most frequently talked-about topics at the conference was ‘Millennials’ – how to engage them as fans, and how to manage them as employees. When discussing this topic, NSF did something unique that I have not seen at other conferences yet – they actually had millennials on the panel. The perspective added to the panel made the content more believable, and gave it more clout. It was one of the more interactive sessions at the conference, too – the attendees wanted to pick the brains of the panelists and understand their viewpoints, and attending Millennials volunteered their experiences as well.

As a young veteran of NSF, here are my four tips on “winning” the conference:

1) Branch out of your comfort zone. If you travel to the conference with coworkers, don’t remain joined at the hip with those individuals throughout the event. I definitely believe it is important to bond outside of the office with coworkers, but do not spend the whole time together. Instead take the ‘divide and conquer’ approach to meet more people outside of your organization. You could even transform it into a friendly competition to collect the most business cards if that type of motivation is needed.

2) Never eat alone (also the title of a great book by Keith Ferrazzi). Use your time wisely to engage in meaningful conversations or strengthen connections while standing in the buffet line and then finding a table to dine at.

3) Forget about sleeping. As mentioned earlier, the value of the conference is in the networking and building of relationships, and this just happens to also occur beyond the usual workday bedtime hours.

4) Follow-up with those that you want to remain in communication with. This should include an email, and possibly a LinkedIn connection.

Do you have any additional tips to share to get the most out of the NSF? We’d love to hear them! In the meantime, we’re already prepping for next year’s NSF in Minneapolis – hope to see you there in 2017 (with your winter coat)!