Six ways to make the most of a conference

Proper preparation can reduce stress

Getting the most out of a large conference may be overwhelming for many first-time attendees. Seasoned industry players offer their advice on networking.

In an article for University Affairs, Daniel Drolet asks experienced conference-goers their top tips, in Entrepreneur, Thomas Smale offers advice for introverts at conferences, and in the Huffington Post, Michele Lawson suggests tips for keeping in touch after the event ends.

1. Plan ahead. Consider what you want to get out of the conference—both in terms of learning and networking. List a few people you would like to meet and do a little background research to identify common interests or acquaintances. Nearly all conferences post a schedule and list of speakers—and possibly attendees—before the event or upon arrival. Creating a personal program and carrying a venue map allows for quick decisions about what to attend.

2. Practice. If presenting, be sure to read the speech aloud beforehand to avoid going over an allotted time. Even if you are not presenting, practice a 30-second introduction that sums up the most important or interesting details about you and your work. This will help you quickly connect with people you meet.

3. Make time to socialize. You should make it a priority to attend scheduled social events, but you can also just chat in the hallway or at the hotel bar. Approaching people who just presented—or even tracking them down later—allows for an easy icebreaker. Booking a room at the event venue will eliminate transportation time, giving you more time for networking before and after sessions.

4. Explore. Be sure to get outside of your silo and attend general lectures, not just ones focused on your department. Arriving a day early can help you get your bearings and reduce stress.

5. Smile. It will make you look happy to be there and interested in the other person, even if you are feeling shy. And come ready to listen—networking is grounded in friendship.

6. Follow through. Collect business cards from everyone you meet—this will make sure you do not forget anyone. Reach out to your new contacts via email or social media immediately after getting home, saying that you were glad to meet them and scheduling a time to speak again. If you promised to send something (an article, the name of that book)—then send it. You will establish a basis for trust and a good relationship in the future (Lawson, Huffington Post, 5/22; Drolet, University Affairs, 4/6/2009; Smale, Entrepreneur, 5/20).

The takeaway: Even introverts can successfully network at a conference. Planning and preparation can help ease stress beforehand—while a smile and listening skills will ensure you make a good first impression.


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