Friday, July 26, 2013

8 Ways to Conquer Attending Your Next Conference

Attending a big conference can make you feel like a freak. If you aren't already plugged in to the who's who of your industry, a huge meeting can make you want to hide out and make origami swans out of your business cards rather than pass them out to people at networking events.

There are several ways I prepare myself to make the most of any conference that might help attendees (especially my fellow introverts). Here they are:

1. Get logistical - Scope out the sessions you want to attend, backup sessions, and the receptions and parties you've been invited to and lay them out in an agenda for yourself. You can organize this with paper or using the meeting app and your tablet so you can access at any time. If you can look at the attendee list online, do it! Try to make it a point to meet people of interest while at the meeting.

2. Get chargers - An extension cord, phone chargers, emergency chargers...these all help you to have juiced up electronics and to make friends with others who didn't plan as well as you. Label them with your label maker ahead of time to avoid any confusion later.

3. Get out of your head - Focus more on the other people you meet and less on worrying how you might appear to them. This will make you more comfortable and put your conversation partners at ease.

4. Get vitamins - Make sure to bring B12 with you to help provide an energy boost and to replenish after drinking wine, beer, or cocktails at receptions the night before. Some people (yes, I'm talking about myself here) even have a stash of 8-Hr Energy or Red Bull that they keep in their rooms to help replenish vitamins quickly. It helps.

5. Get protein - Another energy helper, protein, will help you last longer at these marathon events. Protein bars and shakes are good for you to have with you in case you miss a chance to get a meal.

6. Get curious - Ask questions. In your sessions, at your tables, from people you meet, ... questions help you build common ground and foster new relationships. Also, don't be afraid to get on social networks ahead of time and use them to network with other people attending the same meeting. You can ask to meet up with a few of these people while at the meeting and that will help you to expand your circle when you first get to your conference location.

7. Get relaxed - Everyone needs a little down time. Don't forget that you can get some quality discussion time with new friends or just a needed refresher on your own at the hotel pool (or gym or restaurant or spa) during breaks. Some friends of mine have labeled our time at the pool at ASAE Annual, "#poolcon" and we look forward to this as much as the receptions!

8. Get out of your room - I have a tendency to hide sometimes. Don't. These conferences are expensive and rife with possibilities for new connections and learning that can change the course of your career or professional development. USE THEM TO YOUR ADVANTAGE.

Some other helpers:
1. The stash - I bring a stash of my favorite teas and coffee sticks (like Stabucks Via) in a baggie to keep in my room so I never run out and always have something soothing around. I like to drink tea before going to sleep at night so this is big for me.
2. The clothes - Dress in layers. Conference rooms can be frigid even in the middle of summer, so carry a cardigan or pashmina scarf with you that will help you stay warm if the meeting rooms aren't.
3. The shoes - Have a pair of emergency flats - if you wear heels, or even if you don't, a pair of extra flats will sometimes save you from shoe issues.

What are some of your favorite tips for making the best of your conferences?


  1. Water, water, water. Drink it when you can find it. I try to get to a nearby grocery or convenience store to stock up my room.

    I also like to see where the nearest coffee shops, cafes and good beer bars are located, so I have a place close by to reset and rejuvenate.

    I always pack sneakers so I can take a 30-minute exercise walk but sometimes they never get used. :-(

    Sit with people you don't know. It's really hard to do that when you only see your association friends once or twice a year (if that), but these conferences are our one chance to make new friends while keeping the old. <channeling that old Girl Scouts song, "make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold."

    Can't wait to see you, KiKi!

  2. Ooh - the importance of water! Deirdre, thanks for the reminder. Water is hugely important.

    Ditto on the sneakers.

    I'll try to make an extra effort to sit with people I don't know. I'm usually seeking the comfort of friends, so this is a hard one for me, believe it or not! :)

  3. Find and use a business card scanner app - HUGE time saver. Take a pic of the card, the app 'scans' it with OCR and dumps the contact into your contact list for you. CardMunch works well if you're both on LinkedIn, but there's a multitude of other good ones as well.

  4. If you want to meet fun people, look for the redheads. They are easy to spot in a crowd.

    See you soon KiKi!

  5. Great stuff Kiki!

    Come with an attitude to pick up new ideas no matter where you find them. Too many attendees say "I can't learn from them, they are a small association or the reverse, they are a large association." Steal (ok, borrow) ideas and tweak them to fit your association.

    Vote with your feet. If the session isn't what you expected in first 5 minutes, walk out and go to your backup! It's okay to walk out! (Except for my session on Monday!)


  6. Love this post, KiKi, and highly second Deirdre's addition of water. Keeps you flowing on the inside so you can flow on the outside. ;-)

    On point #5, I have to say: make it a point to never miss a meal. I totally agree with having backups like protein bars and healthy snacks; but I also know from experience and observation that we tend to underestimate our nutrition and hunger at these things. Plus, scheduling a meal -- or having an impromptu one -- gives you something (or somewhere) to do 3, 6, 7, and 8!

    If you're like me, and you're also working these events, it's important to know what resources are at your disposal. Ask about hours and services at the hotel desk when you check in. Scope out where grab-and-go spots are. Talk with the on-site ASAE shuttle/info people, who are usually local volunteers. Make it a point to make friends with all of these people (rather than treating them like "service staff"), and it'll make your stay much more enjoyable. Locate your nearest pharmacy and memorize its location. Don't forget to tip housekeeping!


Thanks for your comments!