I love conferences. I love meeting people, getting out of my hometown to explore a new city, seeing new speakers, and hearing the most current “how – to” for my field.
I am also terrified of conferences. As an introvert, the thought of walking into a huge room filled with people I don’t know makes me want to throw up. I am supposed to walk up to them and say..what? I just want.to.hide.
Now for my extroverts reading this – don’t you dare roll your eyes because this is real stuff I am dealing with (and I bet your colleagues who don’t ever come out of their hotel room at conferences feel the same way).
When I went to conferences as an attendee it took everything in me not to order room service, go to sessions and wander around solo. I am so grateful for the folks that caught my eye (well my deer in headlights stare) and whisked me off to lunch or dinner pulling me out of my shell.
Since I speak at a lot of conferences now; it’s a different story. I am expected to be “on” and can’t hide out so I have developed a game plan to ensure that I am 100% authentic with every person I meet but also with myself (super-important). But this ain’t about me; it’s about YOU!
Conquering conferences (and winning) takes work and you can’t just go all willy nilly. So here’s my game plan so that you can be prepared for your next conference.
- Have an actual plan – What do you want to get out of your time at conference? Is it to learn something specific? Meet new people? Reconnect with colleagues you don’t normally see? Scout out a new company or organization you want to work for? Come up with your top 2-3 reasons you have to be there and name what success looks like for you when it’s over. Literally – “what does success look like for me after attending this conference?” It’s so important to have a plan because this will be the foundation for the next part of the game plan.
- Pregame – Is there a speaker you really want to meet? Take to social media to make sure you know what they are up to. Have something interesting to ask and to say. If you want a picture; ASK! And make sure you tag them too. Are you reconnecting with colleagues? Look at the conference schedule and make sure you schedule time together. The amount of times I have said “ OMG we should totally grab coffee” during conference and didn’t make time to do it is embarrassing. Now I am all about putting that time on the schedule.
- Network like a rockstar – Folks! Bring your business cards. Why are you going to conferences with no cards on you? You’ve got to meet people. How will they remember you (besides your winning smile)? Put them everywhere. In your bag, in your notebook. In your suitcase. In your conference badge. Next, when you collect cards from new friends, write down where you met them at conference annnnnnnd a distinguishable feature about them so you remember exactly why you connected.
- Get Social – even for my fellow introverts, this is super important. Pick one event that’s completely social that seems like it’ll have the best vibe (I scout out locations beforehand) and go to that. Don’t go right at the start time because no one will be there but about 30 minutes after it’s’ started. Why? When we are relaxing and unwinding after a long day, getting a chance to see people in a new element (and maybe talk shop more casually) can be super helpful to your conference goals. Here’s a secret: set a goal for the amount of time you will stay and the number of people you will connect with and once you hit that goal you are free to go if you’re not having a blast by then. But if you do this right, you won’t notice the time.
- Do a daily digest – One of the things I love to do is do a download of my day. Whether you take 30 minutes to write out an email for your team or you do a video (my fav), recap the day: what did you hear, what did you learn, who can use it most and who did you meet. That helps share the wealth of knowledge you are getting and includes your team in the experience. Management hint: require that of everyone who goes to conferences.
- Stay In Touch – don’t you hate when people say “we should stay in touch” and then don’t? Yeah…me too! So don’t be that person. Connect on social, write a note and schedule your next touch base. It’ll keep you connected and keep you accountable. You’ve got to work harder at relationships as adults so this is an easy way to get into a rhythm you can manage
Last but not least, take care of yourself. Conferences can be GO! GO! GO! But you don’t have to overtax yourself. Take time to explore the city you’re in, take time for yourself, and recharge your mind so you can go back to work refreshed and ready to work!
Let me know if these tips resonate and which one you HAVE to make sure you do for your next conference. Listen fab friend, you got this!