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Insider Tips for Attending a Conference

Get ready for conference season like a pro, and start planning now.

Tips for attending a conferenceOne of the best ways for businesses to learn, connect and drum up new opportunities is to invest in attending a conference. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, these events can happen in your hometown (like the recent Centrallia 2016 conference which was held in Winnipeg), and in other cases they may require planning, travel and some additional preparation.

In order to help you maximize your investment, let’s go over a few ways that you can prepare to attend a conference (both in town and out of town) and get the most out of your experience.

Start Connecting Before the Event Starts

One of the easiest ways to make connections at a conference, and one that is highly overlooked, is to begin connecting well in advance. There are a few ways that you can do this, including:

● Following the speakers listed on the conference website, whether on LinkedIn, Twitter or by subscribing to their newsletter

● Searching for the event hashtag on Twitter and following people tweeting about it

● Downloading the event app if one is available, and making use of all its functionality to connect with other users

● Sharing and commenting on other people’s posts about the upcoming event, including the conference organizers themselves

Remember: Conferences are Marathons

One of the biggest mistakes that many newbie conference attendees often make is to not pace themselves. Often, people don’t anticipate what a drain these events can be on your energy levels after the first day or two.

When you attend a conference, expect to be busy from 8 am to at least 9 or 10 pm. That’s assuming that you don’t participate in one of the many cocktail parties or networking galas that often happen after dinner. And you may still have to fit in a day’s work at some point. (Keep scrolling as we discuss that topic).

It’s totally okay to indulge in a drink or two (in my experience networking is best done in a casual let’s-have-a-drink kind of way anyway), but be mindful not to overdo it. Know your limits, get as much sleep as you can, and if the conference offers activities like jogging, exercise classes or yoga, try to hit them up and press the “reset” button mentally before another busy day.

Prioritize What You Want to Accomplish

Some people attend conferences because they’re interested in a specific keynote. Others make it a priority to hit the gala events. And still others get most excited about hopping from booth to booth to meet all the exhibitors.

Whatever your goal may be, a helpful way to keep your priorities in check and make sure you do as much as possible is to make a list of the activities or events that match your goals. That way you can cross-reference which events are happening, when they are all taking placing, and then “stack” them to create the perfect schedule for learning and networking.

Check Out Your “Must See” Vendor Booths ASAP

If you’ve ever manned a booth at a conference then you know how exhausting it can be. With that in mind, get the most out of your interactions by visiting the booths that interest you as early on in the conference as possible. That way both you and the people at the booth will feel fresh, cheerful, and ready to network and talk.

This is also a helpful tactic when it comes to trying to meet the owner of the business, or the person in charge of the booth. If you stop by and they aren’t there, then there’s still time to pop back later on during the conference to chat with the decision maker.

Set Aside Time for Work

Unfortunately, your day-to-day life doesn’t stop just because you’re at a conference. This means that even if you have a great team supporting you back at the office, you’re still on the hook to respond to emails, follow up on deadlines and attend to any other pressing issues.

Ideally, try to set aside 1or 2 hours a day to catch up on work. This is generally best done in the mornings before all the events begin, but if you can sneak in a “working lunch” or if you have a break in-between meetings or info sessions, pull out your laptop and get it done. Trust me, your inbox and your anxiety levels will thank you.

When you get back home or to your hotel room, the last thing you may want to do is check in on more work. After all, conferences are already work! But take 15 minutes to answer emails, update your growing to-do list and plan out your schedule for the next day.

Wear comfortable clothes

I understand that there’s pressure to “dress the part” at big professional conferences, but at events where you’re likely to be hustling around, it’s important to take comfort into consideration.

For guys this is relatively easy. If you want to dress up then a pair of slacks (or dark denim, depending on the type of event) paired with a well-fitted dress shirt will do just fine. Put on a tailored blazer and skip the tie for that polished and sophisticated look. For conferences, you can skip the suit. You don’t want to be sweating like crazy in a three-piece suit, or carting your bulky jacket around to every meeting or session you attend, do you?

Ladies, I understand that wearing heels feels professional, but if you’re planning to do any amount of walking or standing (which is basically what conferences are) skip out on the 6-inch heels during the day. Instead, wear a pair of comfortable flats or low shoes.

If you must dress up, save the fancy digs for the networking events during the evening when suits and heels are more appropriate.

Bring Power Cables

I can’t stress this one enough! Your phone, laptop, tablet and whatever devices you bring will die at some point if you don’t bring your charging cables with you. While it’s not recommended practice to be glued to your devices during the conference, having your phone can help you “look busy” if you’re feeling overwhelmed or awkward (this is my favourite move).

Bonus points: if you bring an extension cord with you, it will act as a conversation-starter because other attendees will ask you to use it and will hang around in your vicinity while their devices charge, giving you the perfect icebreaking opportunity.

Do you have any tips and tricks for attending a conference? Tell us in the comments section below.

Alyson Shane

Alyson Shane is a writer and business owner from Winnipeg, Manitoba who has been publishing content online for 16+ years. She runs Starling Social, an agency which develops digital marketing strategies that combine social media, paid advertising and content strategy to keep businesses growing and engaged with their customers. Outside the office, Alyson is a passionate urbanist who loves gardening, riding her bike and thinking about the public spaces that bring us together. She can be reached on social media at @alysonshane.

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