How to Optimise Your Conferencing Experience
When you are merrily on your way to whatever exciting conference you have lined up, a cold sinking sensation can attack the pit of your stomach. You are far from prepared. How on earth are you going to ensure you maximise the potential of every single interaction?
Fear not, you’ve still got time to get a plan in place.
Before you set off
Make sure you’ve put together your handy conference survival pack. This consists of:
- Something memorable as part of your outfit be it an interesting piece of jewellery, a distinctively coloured/patterned shirt or coat. This will make it easier for you to be spotted by those you may have arranged to meet with or provide a handy ice breaker/conversation starter.
- A copy of the conference timetable in whatever form you prefer. You might have an old school tooled up laminated print out or photo to refer to on your phone. Naturally, as part of this effort you should have done your prep. Scour the programme to see who’s on and prioritise which sessions you wish to attend. You could even think about putting these into your phone calendar so you don’t forget.
- Some portable method of keeping your phone/tablet/laptop juiced. There’s nothing worse than trying to get a dying mobile connected to the internet in order to post that incredibly witty tweet you just devised. There are plenty of solar powered chargers or power banks, find one that works for you. Last thing you want to do is fight over a power outlet.
- Snacks – food may well be provided at the conference. However, the buffet laid on can often tend towards the slightly pretentious end of the food spectrum and come smothered questionable salads and relishes. You need to make sure that your body is as fully fuelled your phone. Protein bars and the like are definitely called for.
- Business cards. We’ll get onto that particular slice of conference etiquette in a moment.
Other things to do include:
- Follow the conference hashtags on Twitter and Instagram for behind the scenes gossip. This can give you insider knowledge on panels and talks you might not have previously considered attending before. Other vital information provided may well come in the form of the conference Wi-Fi password, competitions or free software trials.
- You can also find like-minded people through these online platforms that you might want to arrange a meeting with whilst attending. You can have coffee ‘dates’ or drinks to look forward to.
- Decide whether you’ll be attending with a colleague or going stag. Both options have their own advantages. You could choose to divide and conquer whilst ensuring you’ll always have someone to sit with or bank on the extra pressure to find people to talk with to entice you out of your shell.
During the event
- Turn up half an hour early to make sure you get a good seat, it will also provide opportunities to chat with other delegates.
- If you are unsure about committing to an entire have a plan to slip out early. Give it a chance at first, maybe fifteen minutes or so, but if you’re not enjoying it despite that then it’s probably not going to get any better. Just in case, position yourself in an aisle seat or near the back so you can tiptoe out with minimal disruption.
- Talk to people, obviously. If you see someone standing awkwardly on their own then go up and say hi. Could be the best business decision you ever made.
- Ask questions. Obvious questions are fine because they can spark interesting conversations but do your best to veer away from stupid ones as those are the ones everyone will remember.
- Remember you can take pictures rather than making notes. Mobile phones are so good nowadays that they all come with a good quality camera, ensuring you won’t miss anything while you’re scribbling.
- Speaking of exit plans, make sure you know how you’re getting home. Have backups in place as the taxis will get booked up fast once the conference ends. And occasionally there are networking drinks afterwards, so make sure you don’t miss your last train!
- Attend those drinks sessions even if you’re teetotal, that extra atmosphere of relaxation can make all the difference to the quality of conversation. After all, you can always buy the speaker’s book afterwards but you can’t get that level of interaction anywhere else.
- When it comes to networking, don’t lead with that stack of business cards you brought. Have genuine conversations with other attendees because those are much more interesting and people will be much more willing to follow up with contact. They might even ask for your business card meaning that there’s no need to thrust yours under their nose.
After the Event
- Once you get back home or to the office, make sure to write down some brief notes about the conference, such as people you met, company names, thoughts and feelings, websites and techniques. Even if you have been taking notes all day, having a short summary for yourself may help jog your memory later on and could remind you of meaningful conversations with potential contacts.
- Speaking of contacts at the very least add them on LinkedIn, as a social media site it is a lot more professional than Facebook and is less invasive when adding others.
- Tweet, blog, share about your experience. Not only will the event organisers appreciate it, but it could help kick-start further discussions. Especially if you mention any particular talks you enjoyed.
At the end of the day it is best to accept that things never go exactly as planned. You’ll spill coffee on that expensively crisp new shirt, miss out on that important session you so earnestly highlighted and find yourself in a cupboard rather than the loo. But really, it will all be alright. Probably. You’re going for the experience after all. Have some fun and don’t feel the fear of missing out.