Attending a conference can be fun, but also mentally draining.
It can be quite overwhelming when you first arrive, especially at larger events. There's so much to see, do, and listen to, let alone all the people you should probably be connecting with.
I've put together a list of tips for preparing for visiting a conference, and how you can get the most value out of the trip:
1 | consider your goals & research
So, why are you actually going to this conference? What do you hope to achieve from attending?
These are the things you should ideally consider before you get your ticket, especially for conferences that aren't free. You'd be surprised how much you can catch up on just by following the conference social media accounts at home instead.
But, if you do decide it's right for you to attend, sit down and do some research first. Find out which companies are exhibiting, and (if you can) see if you can get a list of attendees too; there might be some big names on the list!
Why not reach out to those you'd like to meet on LinkedIn before the conference. Say you're both going to the same event, and ask if they'd like to get a coffee. There's no harm in asking!
2 | sort your timetable before you arrive
This is probably my number one tip. There's nothing worse than wasting time faffing around trying to work out which presentation to go to next.
Look up the event schedule and create your plan of action the night before, adding in which talks you want to go to, and any meetings you have booked. Remember to leave enough time for coffee, food, toilet breaks, and general wandering around to look at stands too!
3 | get business cards & an elevator pitch
I'm sure this sounds obvious, but you really should bring business cards. This applies whether you're employed, own a business, freelance, or even if you're unemployed. In fact, especially if you're unemployed. Sort out your personal branding and make an epic first impression with potential employers or business connections.
Having an 'Elevator Pitch' is equally important. Just a succinct sentence or two about who you are and what you do... but delivered in a really interesting way. The art is in making people want to know more about you and your business.
4 | follow the conference twitter & facebook
I'm talking before and during the event. They'll probably be posting interesting information about exhibitors and speakers in the lead up, and following throughout the conference means you'll be first to know about any time changes or impromptu mini-events!
5 | wear comfortable shoes!
Seriously, please wear sensible footwear.
I know I sound like your mum right now, but ladies, you can't expect to spend a whole day walking around and standing up in heels and not regret it come 6pm. Especially if you've got more than one day at the event.
Just trust me on this.
6 | arrive early & suss out the area
Sneaky tip alert: Arrive at least half an hour before you actually want/need to be there so that you can explore the area surrounding the event. Find a local cafe or at least a corner shop where you can buy lunch and snacks, because food and drink inside the conference will cost you three times what you think it will.
And for God's sakes, bring a bottle of water from home.
7 | use the event's twitter hashtag
Here are just a few reasons why you should definitely use the event's hashtag throughout the conference:
- Keep up to date with time changes (as mentioned above)
Seriously, this seems to happen a lot, so best to keep in the know.
- Say hi to people and meet 'influencers'
Take the chance to say hi to those 'big names' and speakers at the event, and gosh, maybe even get a retweet to their 1000s of followers too.
- Use it for 'soft-networking'
Say hi and introduce yourself to people, and suggest you meet at the next break to chat in person. This gives you a chance to stalk them a little and prepare beforehand.
- Get sneaky tips from other attendees
This is the fun part, and you should do it too! Tips like "coffee shop 2 stops down the road does way better, cheaper coffee FYI!" or "the guys at AwesomeCo's stand just gave me free lunch; yay!" will make your day. And yes, they will mostly be based around coffee and food.
- Get involved in discussions
During the presentations, people will tweet quotes, comments, and questions, designed to start discussion on Twitter. Dive in!
onestly, Twitter is such a great tool for getting more out of events. As an introvert with a serious aversion to 'real-life networking', for me it is absolutely the best thing ever!
8 | don't get sucked in by free stuff
Unless the company giving you free stuff is actually really interesting, then by all means, take all the free stuff!
But seriously this could waste hours of your time and get you into some really awkward conversations with companies trying to sell you stuff that you actually really do not want...
It's just embarrassing for everyone involved.
9 | bring a notepad & pen (or two!)
Again, sounds obvious, but you'll feel daft as anything if you forget. You will need these tools so that you can:
a) Write down interesting people's names and details
b) Make notes from all the awesome presentations you attend
c) Write down your name and details when you run out of business cards because you've been networking so damn hard.
10 | follow-up quickly
I once had to spend 2 whole days trying to sort out business cards and leads that had been shoved in a notebook at a conference over 5 months before. It was near impossible.
To avoid this, follow-up with the contacts you made as soon as you get back to the office. You just spent three days of your life, and hundreds of pounds in travel and food and whatever else to get those names and details, so treat them like your top priority!