Attending a business trip conference can be a boost to your professional clout. But it can also be nerve-racking as you try to prepare to make the most out of the experience. After that initial excitement fades, you're left with a lot of uncertainty about what to pack, do, or say so that you make a good impression and build your network.
I've attended my fair share of conferences and learned some helpful strategies along the way. Some of these lessons were learned the hard way. Here's my list of tips I've picked up along the way that have helped me to stress less and use my time more efficiently.
1. Add important addresses into your GPS.
One of the first things I do when I'm getting ready to attend a conference is add the conference address to my GPS. There have been times when my phone won't load properly. By adding the address beforehand along with the hotel address, I have prevented a lot of headaches. It's also helpful to have for our Uber driver if my colleagues and I go out.
2. Pack wisely.
Many people stress over what to wear at a conference. You can never go wrong with a button-down shirt and a pair of slacks. I also suggest packing a light jacket. Even if you're attending a summer conference, conference halls can be chilly.
Pack toiletries, medicine and disinfecting supplies. You can always use your travel rewards credit card if you need to pay for extra luggage. Consider bringing pens, a notebook, portable chargers, a tablet or laptop, mints, and lip balm. Since you're talking to people all day, you don't want your breath to smell like your breakfast or have chapped lips!
3. Set an out-of-office reply.
Let people know that you're not going to be in the office for a few days. The last thing you want after coming back from your conference is to find out that unanswered emails have created a number of problems, including the loss of clients. Redirect them to someone who can handle the concerns or questions while you're away.
4. Don't forget your business cards.
Conferences are half-part learning and half-part networking. If someone asks you for your contact information, you can exchange business cards, then later, connect on LinkedIn.
5. Socialize via conference hashtag.
The organizers create Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts so the attendants have one place to gather information and talk about the event. Therefore, most conferences also have hashtags.
Use those hashtags to chat with people you're excited to meet or create an event for attendants to meet after the conference. Either way, socializing with other attendants via the hashtag is a good way to see who's going and what they do.
6. Create and memorize your pitch.
Your elevator pitch is something that shouldn't be created on the spot. It takes preparation to think about what makes you unique from your competitors and how you exactly benefit your clients.
Once you've taken the time to craft your pitch, practice speaking it. People are going to walk up to you and ask you what you do. You need to be prepared for this question and how you're going to answer it.
7. Rehearse icebreakers.
If you're an introvert, conferences are likely going to bring you out of your comfort zone. Starting conversations with other attendants may be uncomfortable at times. To avoid missing out on making great connections, you need to rehearse a few connection starters.
You can ask them their opinion on the city you're in, the last speaker, or if they know of a good restaurant. Once you get them to start talking and you both feel more comfortable, the rest of the conversation will flow naturally.
8. Think about what's your purpose for attending.
Conferences can be costly. You don't want to attend one without a plan. Think about your purpose for attending.
Are you going to learn about a certain topic? Is your ideal client attending? Or are you attending, so you can meet an industry leader?
You need to get very clear about what's your purpose and goal. It can be a complete waste of time and money if you don't.
9. Strategize how you're going to accomplish it.
Once you know what your purpose is, strategize on how you're going to accomplish it. If you're going to learn about a topic, then spend a good deal of time learning information on that speaker. Once their session is over, ask them more questions about the topic.
You can use the same method when meeting clients or industry leaders. Your goal is to introduce yourself and show them that you're interested in getting to know more about them. This interest can help build a relationship with them.