Nine Tips for Surviving Your Next Conference
“This is a great idea!” I thought to myself, this month as I registered for two professional conferences in one week. “I’ll go to one Sunday through Tuesday night, and then fly to the other that runs Wednesday through Friday.”
I was pleased with my calendar efficiency. It turns out I forget one important thing. Conferences are exhausting. Certainly they are fun, educational, and great professional opportunities…but they are also deeply tiring. As the Fall conference season gets rolling, and I recover from my week of ballrooms and business cards –
I’m passing on a few tips for getting through it:
- For God’s sake, bring a sweater – If you take one tip to heart its this: Conference ballrooms are inevitably freezing. Like so-cold-you-can’t-think-or-speak-freezing. People will continually call conference staff to ask for less air conditioning. This will not work. You are on your own. Make sure you have a suit jacket, sweater or at least long sleeves to make it through the day.
- Drink some water – See #1. As you are freezing, its easy to go for the second (or third) cup of coffee in the back of the room. Its not hard to overshoot your caffeine level when you were up early and plan to be up late. There will inevitably evening drinks at the hotel bar as well, so make sure you get some water in the mix.
- The AV will not work – If you are presenting a paper, manning a booth, moderating a panel or giving out an award, understand that the tech will most likely fail you at some point in the process. Internet, projection, lighting, microphones – there are so many possible points of failure. If you recognize this at the start, it will be much less stressful when it happens. Bring printouts of your material, upload it to the cloud, and have it on a memory stick. Roll-with it and prepare your “Plan B.”
- Remember every conference is a bubble – The are actual famous people and then there are “conference famous” people. Conference famous people are those who are HUGE in the small world of the guests convened for the meeting. The big names in your industry and professional sector may not have the same star power in the real world. Keep this is mind, take a breath, and say hello after the keynote. They may be famous-ish, but they will often welcome your comments and engagement.
- Give yourself permission to skip out – Attend the sessions that look interesting, but don’t feel chained to the conference program. Allow yourself to skip if you are having an interesting hallway conversation or are sitting in a productive lunch meeting that runs long. You are there to make the connections and find the resources that are relevant to you. That may happen at a conference panel, but know its just as likely to happen in the lobby.
- Stay in the conference hotel – If your goal is to meet people and make connections stay in the heart of things in the conference hotel. This front row seat provides fruitful, chance connections, and allows you to continue conversations from breakfast in the morning all the way through to the hotel bar at night.
- or Don’t Stay in the conference hotel – If you are the kind of person that needs a break, and is drained from being “on” 24 hours a day, maybe the conference hotel is not for you. If breakfast meetings make you cringe – go for the hotel down the road and give yourself some breathing room.
- Your phone is a hot spot – Conference internet is patchy or non-existent. Hotel Wi-Fi is incredibly expensive. Learn how to flip your cell phone on as a Wi-Fi hotspot. It uses some data but will easily help you connect your laptop in a pinch.
- Empty the bag – Everyone ends the conference with a big bag of stuff: notes, fliers, brochures, free pens, and many (many) business cards. Make sure to set yourself aside some time to go through it all at home or back at the office. Make the connections and send the follow-ups you that intended before it goes out of your mind.