Conferences are great for your company and your professional development, but they can do a number on your stress level.
By the end of the week, you’ve mingled with businesspeople, attended meetings and happy hours and walked past what seems like a million booths.
Although conferences are intimidating, it’s easy to have a positive attitude about them if you take care of business and take care of yourself. Planning, scheduling and communicating are essential to a successful conference experience, yet we tend to forget about the human needs that have an important impact on professional success.
This can be a tough balance, but the following tips will lead to a conference experience that you’ll want to write home about.
1. Establish goals. Add space in your conference timeline by planning out your goals beforehand. Think about why your organization chose to participate in the conference. Are you looking to partner with other companies? Are you scoping out your organization’s competition? Are you developing your employees’ skills? Conferences offer opportunities that go far beyond finding out about new products and reconnecting with old associates. Establish your goals, and remember them with every interaction you make.
2. Make the most of your (and the presenters’) time. Companies presenting at conferences look to meet face to face with established and potential customers and partners. With communication largely moving online, conferences are a rare opportunity to rub shoulders with those you might otherwise never see. Companies want to maximize in-person conversations, so if you approach a booth, be ready to talk. You may know nothing about the company, but as you listen and learn, think about how you can apply their services to your organization. If they don’t fill a need, move on. After the conference, follow up with the people you’ve met with. The best way to maximize your time at a conference is by transforming your conversations into results for your company.
3. Keep tabs on meetings outside of the conference. If you’re serious about meeting with reps of a specific company, try to attend a meeting outside the main convention space. Companies set up meetings in hotels and coffee shops near most conferences, so set up a time to discuss business outside the hectic convention hall. This will allow you to focus on identifying ways to collaborate and to establish next steps after the conference.
4. Take care of yourself. If you’re spending eight hours a day walking around the exhibition hall and connecting with potential partners, your feet will be very unhappy by the end of the week. Invest in a pair of comfortable yet stylish dress shoes. It’s equally important to stay hydrated and nourished. Stash some protein bars or packets of almonds in your bag in case you don’t have time to take an hourlong lunch.
5. Don’t overdo it on the happy hour. Though you can do some great networking at the hotel bar, avoid overdoing it with alcohol in a professional setting. They say the best way to get to know someone is over a drink, but that drink can turn into a night that you’ll regret in the morning. Aside from the embarrassment and potential business consequences, drinking can make you dehydrated and sluggish for your next day at the conference. If you go out to meet with a potential business partner, one drink is plenty. If you need to hold something in your hand, sparkling water with lemon is a safe choice.
6. Give yourself time for spontaneity. Just as you don’t want to over-plan a vacation, you don’t want to over-plan when attending a conference. Leave some space to chat with a presenter after a talk or to get to know a startup that you’ve never heard of. Even though you might feel there is little to no extra time during a conference, make sure you set aside some wiggle room in your schedule for these conversations. They might just be the most important ones you have during the whole trip.
Conferences provide opportunities to meet people from your industry and to learn about what your company’s future may hold. By ensuring that your professional and personal needs are fulfilled, you’ll present a positive image for yourself and your business. Make the most of it.