While conferences can be great for your company and your professional development, they can do a number on your stress levels. By the end of the week, you’ve mingled with businesses, attended meetings and happy hours and walked past what seems like a million booths.
Although conferences are intimidating, it’s easy to have a positive attitude about them if you take care of business and take care of yourself. While planning, scheduling, and communicating are essential to a successful conference experience, we tend to forget about the human needs that have an important impact on professional success. This can be a tough balance, but the following tips will lead to a conference experience that you’ll want to write home about.
Add some space in your conference timeline by planning out your goals beforehand. Think about why your organization chose to come to the conference. Are you looking to partner with other companies? Are you scoping out your organization’s competition? Are you further developing your employees’ skills? Conferences offer opportunities that go far beyond finding out about new products and reconnecting with old associates. Establish your goals, and remember them with every interaction you make.
Make the most of your (and the presenters’) time
Companies presenting at conferences look to meet face-to-face with existing and potential customers and partners. In an environment where communication is largely moving online, conferences are a rare opportunity to rub shoulders with those you may otherwise never see. Companies want to maximize in-person conversations, so if you approach a booth, be ready to talk. You may know nothing about the company, but as you listen and learn, think about how you can apply their services to your organization. If they don’t fill a need, move on. After the conference, follow up with the people you’ve met with. The best way to maximize your time at a conference is by transforming your conversations into results for your company.
Keep tabs on meetings outside of the conference
If you’re serious about meeting with a specific company, try to attend a meeting outside of the main convention space. Companies set up meetings in hotels and coffee shops near most conferences, so reach out and set up a time to discuss business outside of the hectic convention hall. This will allow you to focus on identifying ways to collaborate and to establish next steps after the conference.
Take care of yourself
If you’re spending eight hours a day walking around the exhibition hall and connecting with potential partners, your feet will be very unhappy by the end of the week. Invest in a pair of comfortable yet stylish dress shoes. It’s equally as important to stay hydrated and nourished. Stash some protein bars or packets of almonds in your bag for when you don’t have time to take an hour-long lunch.
Don’t overdo it on the happy hour
While you can do some great networking at the hotel bar, there is nothing worse than overdoing it with alcohol in a professional setting. While they say the best way to get to know someone is over a drink, that drink can quickly turn into a night that you’ll regret in the morning. Aside from the embarrassment and potential business consequences, drinking can make you dehydrated, sluggish, and off your game for your next day at the conference. If you go out to meet with a potential business partner, one drink is plenty. If you need to have something in your hand, sparkling water with lemon is a safe choice.
Give yourself time for spontaneity
Just like you don’t want to over plan a vacation, you don’t want to over plan when attending a conference. Leave some space to chat with a presenter after a talk or to get to know a startup that you’ve never heard of. Even though you might feel there is little to no extra time during a conference, make sure you set aside some wiggle room in your schedule for these conversations – they might just be the most important ones you have during the whole trip.
Conferences provide opportunities to meet people from your industry and to learn about what your company’s future may hold. By ensuring that your professional and personal needs are fulfilled, you’ll present a positive image for yourself and your business. Make the most of it.
A version of this article originally appeared in InFluential Magazine.