I go to a lot of conferences. Sometimes, people ask me for advice on what to do or how to prepare, particularly if they’ve never been to that particular event before. Though each conference is different, I think a few basic rules apply to getting the most from all of them.
- Wear comfortable shoes. Can’t emphasize this one enough! Venues are often large, and even if the meeting rooms are relatively close together, you may end up walking quite a bit on the off-hours (such as to dinner or other local venues) or to get from your hotel to the meeting space. Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to wear hiking boots, and obviously you may want to go with looks over comfort for the more formal awards banquet type of activities. But in general, think “feels good” before “looks good”.
- Bring more business cards than you think you’ll need. As networking and making connections becomes more critical to all of our careers, you’ll want to remember and be remembered by the people you meet at conferences. You’ll meet people everywhere – at the formal events, between events, in the hallways and restaurants and elevators. The last thing you want to do is run out of cards! Believe me, a professional-looking business card leaves a much better impression than a scribbled note on a cocktail napkin.
- When you do exchange cards with someone, write a note to yourself right on the card – where you met, what you discussed, or what you promised to send to that person. Do it right away – you will not remember this sort of thing if you wait until you get home.
- Get the schedule in advance and plan what you want to see, but DO NOT try to see a program in every time block on every day. If the conference is any good at all, attending every session will make your head explode. Also, keep in mind that your plan is likely to change, just roll with it.
- After the event, follow up with the people you met and enjoyed. This could just be a quick note to say “I enjoyed that lunch on Wednesday” or it could be more involved – an introduction, a link, a file that you promised to send, or arranging another in-person meeting. Keep your word – if you promised something, make sure you come through.
While most of the events I attend are work-related, I think these rules apply just as much to the more leisure-oriented events I’m starting to attend. Remember, conferences can provide lots of opportunity for learning and networking, even after the event is over.