By Ellen Coule
Conferences require a huge investment of your time – if not your money, too! If you typically head to a conference feeling pumped up and ready to conquer the world, but you leave feeling like you received less than you’d hoped to, then you’ll love these quick tips to make your next conference experience a success.
Follow my tips below to get a higher return on your investment and start feeling like you’re truly getting the most out of attending conferences.
Set a clear intention for exactly what you want to get out of the conference.
Do you want to ask a specific question to your favorite presenter? Are you hoping to find people to collaborate with on a campaign? Do you need a connection to someone who can help you with a specific obstacle you’re facing? Or maybe you just want to meet some cool new people you can talk shop with? Whatever your goal is, set your very clear intention before the event. Pick a goal that will make you feel like the conference was a huge success if you accomplish just that one thing.
Know your learning style.
We all have a specific learning style (maybe multiple or different styles for different subjects) – a method of learning that maximizes our absorption of the material for later use. With 3 different types of learning styles, it is important to know which one you resonate with the most.
If you learn the best when hearing something (think: lecture, presentation, audio books, explicit directions spoken to you, etc.), then you are an auditory learner. This means you need to find a place in the crowd where you can hear the speaker well, eliminate distractions, and focus!
If you prefer to see something on paper, the screen, or in a workbook, then you are a visual learner. Visual learners prefer to see something in front of them for maximum absorption. They could hear something and work with it, but until they SEE it, they won’t fully understand it! If this is you, make sure you’re seated somewhere you can see the presenter’s screen (if applicable).
If you learn best by using your hands to work with something, then you are a kinesthetic learner. Kinesthetic learners are hands-on people – they like to take notes, make doodles, manipulate puzzle pieces, and physically be in contact with the material. If that is you, be prepared with your favorite notebook & a backup pen. (This is also a great way to make a new friend – inevitably someone will need to borrow your extra pen!)
A lot of people want to attend with someone they know because they’ll feel more comfortable, but there is a lot of value in making yourself uncomfortable, and going alone is great for so many reasons! If you are truly there to connect and network, going with a bestie (or even business partner) could distract you from meeting new people and making meaningful connections.
We tend to stick with those who make us feel comfortable, and if you have someone with you they may become your security blanket. Branch out and go alone – you will be amazed at how easy it is to actually make friends when you’re forced to talk to strangers! You never know who you’ll end up connecting with. Many high-level conferences (like the one I’m attending today), attract Fortune 100 CEOs and heavy-hitters from all over the world.
Better yet, many will also send their assistants and team members to the event. I’ve made some truly great connections just by turning to the person next to me and asking them a simple question that ends up turning into a super interesting conversation – and a great new contact!
If you DO attend with a friend/colleague/business partner, sit separately!
(1) You won’t distract each other.
(2) You’ll both be far more likely to engage with strangers and meet valuable connections.
Divide and conquer! You can meet up for lunch or share your takeaways after the event. This will help you both maximize the amount of information you take in.
Similarly, if the conference has multiple small group events at competing time slots, having someone to divide and conquer with will help you get as much knowledge and information as you possibly can! You can always ask your colleague (or your new acquaintances) for key takeaways from the sessions that you might have missed.
Sit up front (or as close as possible).
This might take you back to your school days, but being at the front of the room shows that you’re eager to learn! You’ll have the best experience, see the presenter and the slides much better, and you’ll be more likely to be called on when you raise your hand to ask your burning questions. This has been key to me getting the most out of attending conferences. This could also make you stand out to others in the room who could be meaningful connections you didn’t even know were in the same room!
So often, when I decided against sitting in the front row at an event, I’ll get distracted by the bright phone screen of the person texting/scrolling the internet in the seat in front of me. So annoying! That never happens when you sit up front.
Have your contact card on your phone!
Yes, it’s nice to have business cards for these occasions. But read my previous blog post about other awesome options you can use instead of business cards. Or you use them both to maximize your exposure and memorability (or have a plan B if you run out of cards).
If at all possible, have your website ready BEFORE the conference! If you don’t have one, obviously still go. Just get your website ready to show off before your next event! (I have an awesome Website In A Day Training you can use to make it super easy and fast for you!) Click here to check out the all info.
Pro Tip: Be less concerned about collecting business cards, and be more concerned about having great conversations, making connections, and building relationships!
Absolute Must-Haves to Bring with You:
A portable charger (because you’re gonna run out of juice)
This is an absolute lifesaver on long conference days where you’re out from breakfast to dinner and possibly beyond!
You’ll also be the cool kid if someone’s phone is dead & you have enough juice left in your portable battery to share with new friends! (Yes, I actually made a friend this way last year because my portable battery had 3 full charges in it, AND I still had 2 full charges left by the end of the day. This came in clutch and my new friend got to benefit from extra battery power while we had dinner! I call that a win-win!)
Bonus: Take photos of the presentation slides (only if it’s okay with the presenter, of course – always ask permission first) so you can be more present during the conference instead of scrambling to copy the slides. Remember to be aware of your learning style(s), though! Taking the shortcut of snapping a pic of the slides could leave you without fully maximizing your information absorption if you actually needed to write them down.
Don’t rely on the venue to keep you hydrated. A refillable water bottle is always a good idea to keep on hand. Make sure to refill it before long conference sessions. (P.S. Don’t be refilling plastic water bottles multiple times! They leak toxins into the water, and that shit’s cray. Also: Just stop using plastic water bottles! #RespectYourMotherEarth)
But preferably not loud, crunchy snacks (because NO ONE wants to hear you crunching during a presentation)! I always bring an emergency protein bar, dried fruit, a few lozenges, gum, and some tea bags to flavor my water. Super easy and super healthy! You might even be able to share with someone next to you who could turn into a new friend, connection, or business opportunity!
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like caffeine withdrawals. When I have coffee in the morning, I often end up yawning in the early afternoon. When I have extra long days at a conference, I’ll sometimes reach for an Emergen-C packet. The vitamin C gives me a sustainable energy boost without the crash, and it gives my immune system a great boost (which is a double win when I fly to conferences and get exposed to all those nasty airport germs).
What to Wear:
Comfortable Clothes + Shoes
You should always dress in layers! Those thermostats in the buildings are typically not adjustable, so instead of freezing or burning up, you can adjust to the temperate yourself. You don’t want to spend an entire day freezing and shaking or sweating through your shirt – talk about a distraction!
At the risk of sounding like your mother: Bring a sweater! (You can thank me and your mama later!)
What NOT to Do:
Don’t bring your laptop. This might sound like an unconventional piece of advice, and I’m okay with that. Just go ahead and leave it at home or in the hotel room. If you’re trying to do work while at the conference, you’re gonna miss out on valuable connections and conversations, which is why you made the time & financial investment to be at the event in the first place (and even if the ticket was free, your time = money).
Don’t bring a big bag. Again, you might think the bigger the bag the better prepared you’ll be! But, it actually limits your mobility and can kinda annoy your seat neighbors. Don’t take up a lot of real estate with your laptop bag if you can help it (and DEFINITELY don’t take up a whole seat with your bag!!!). Just bring the necessities. You’ll be happier without lugging around all the excess.
Don’t over-schedule yourself. Leave wiggle room for chatting with other attendees, bathroom breaks, and catching an impromptu lunch or dinner date with new friends. It might seem like a good idea at the time to schedule yourself in every event possible, but allow yourself some flexibility.
Here’s the most important tip of all: Have fun, connect, & get inspired!
Going to conferences can be amazing, but so many people get super stressed before them. Remember why you wanted to go to the conference in the first place: to connect and get inspired! Keep those intentions in the forefront of your mind during the entire conference. You’ll be so glad you did.
I’d love to know what are the best conferences you’ve been to? What are some cool experiences you’ve had at events? Any tips you’d like to share? Tell us in the comments!
Ellen Coule is the Founder of LadyBoss Social Club, a charity-focused empowerment community. Her passion and purpose in life is to empower others to co-create the change we wish to see in the world. Ellen believes that we are stronger together and that, through connection and collaboration with ourselves and our communities, our success is inevitable. Learn more about LadyBoss Social Club on our About Us page.