So it’s time for your first industry conference, and you’re not sure what to expect. You know that hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people in your line of work will be gathered in one city for a few days of panels, trade shows, and schmoozing.
If you want to make the most of the experience, keep a few things in mind.
This is the biggest thing you can do at a conference. Don’t just hang out with your small group of coworkers; get outside your comfort zone.
When you get up in the morning, you should have a list of things you want to accomplish that day. It doesn’t have to be incredibly formal. Maybe you want to introduce yourself to five or six new people, or stop by the trade show and ask three or four questions to the people manning the booths.
Companies spend a lot of time planning and preparing their trade show exhibits, and taking a little time to truly pay attention to what they’ve done can go a long way toward forging new connections. Don’t just act interested; be interested.
There may also be a market for attendees to buy certain products. For instance, a conference for writers will often host a book fair, while a fitness expo might have health-related products on sale. If you buy something, make sure you’ll actually use it. Don’t get caught up in the convention fever and buy a lot of products you don’t actually need.
Conventions can be a great time to learn about products that can improve your life, but don’t feel obligated to purchase anything. A convention T-shirt might be nice, sure, but do you really need a lamp in the shape of Florida? (Maybe you do, in which case you should display the lamp with pride).
Another thing that’s important: seminars and workshops. If your conference offers them, you should look in the program and pick out one or two worth attending. There’s a ton of expertise all gathered in one space, and it would be a shame not to take advantage of it. Some panels may be incredibly inspiring, while others may be incredibly boring, but you won’t know until you give them a shot.
Don’t Get Too Crazy
For some people, going to a conference is a great excuse to act like they’re in college again. They’ll stay up late, go dancing, and empty out the hotel minibar. No one is saying you can’t have some fun at conferences; heck, the event organizers very much want you to enjoy yourself. But don’t treat it like summer camp for forty-somethings. This is especially important if you’re going there as an official representative of your office.
Do you really want your boss to get back an expense report that’s full of vodka purchases? Probably not.
By all means, enjoy a beer or a glass of wine. Feel free to see a bit of the city if there’s time. But don’t forget to get some actual work done. If your supervisor expects you to come back with a report on the latest developments in sewer pipe lining or any other ‘mundane’ tasks you’re trusted with, you should make sure not to miss that particular seminar.
When the last panel is over and the trade show closes up shop, you want to be able to go back home with more than just a hangover and a souvenir shot glass with the name of the convention’s host city on it.