Conferences are a reality of business life. No matter what industry you’re in, conferences are a great way to learn from the best in your field and network with new people.
But sometimes, it isn’t obvious how to get the most out of a conference.
Maybe you aren’t sure what your goals should be at a particular conference. Maybe you don’t feel all that confident about networking with strangers. Maybe work is paying for a conference, but you weren’t totally sold on attending in the first place.
Whatever the reason, you’re on the roster. You’re going to a conference. So you need to know how to get the most of it.
This article covers conference tips that help you use conferences to achieve personal, professional, and business goals. You’ll learn things like:
- How to meet new people—even if you aren’t usually comfortable networking with strangers
- The lifestyle adjustments you’ll need to make while traveling
- Follow-up techniques that create a lasting impression
- How to make sure key speaker insights don’t go in one ear and out the other
Benefits of attending conferences
There are a lot of potential benefits of attending conferences that go beyond the simple “network and learn from speakers.” Of course those are important, but there are other benefits that people don’t always consider. For example:
- Social media content from the conference
- Trading notes on processes and tactics with people in your industry
- Setting up initial meetings for business partnerships
- Creating conference-specific content for a boost in visibility
- Hearing about the latest tools being used in your industry
- Connect with speakers and organizers to open up new opportunities
If these benefits still don’t feel very specific, consider this—all it takes is one new relationship to change your career or your business.
One great connection can lead to new job opportunities, partnerships, and content creation. One new idea, if it’s the right one, can change the way you approach all of your work.
Jay Acunzo, an expert marketer and keynote speaker at Content Marketing World, listed attending networking events as one of his top three pieces of advice for new marketers. As he says “good things happen when you know good people.”
A short packing list for conferences: What you might not think of
If you’re traveling for a conference, what should you pack?
Of course you need to bring clothes to wear and your phone. You’ll probably want a laptop too. But what about going beyond the bare essentials and bringing some useful things you might not normally consider?
- Extra pens to carry with you
- Books to get signed by notable speakers
- A power strip (this will make you popular)
- An extra charger (for backup, but also for the same reason as the power strip)
- Hand sanitizer
- Hand lotion
- Snacks for the conference floor
- A light sweater (even in summer, conference centers are usually brisk)
Without further ado, let’s dive into our 30 best conference tips.
1. Figure out what you want to get out of the event
After you’ve determined that an event is a good fit, it’s important to figure out your goals for the event in advance. Knowing what you want to get out of an event will help you figure out what to prioritize.
- What do you want to get out of the event?
- Is the goal of the event to meet a lot of people?
- A specific person?
- Are you looking to set up a partnership of some sort for your company?
- Are you looking for clients?
- Are you primarily trying to learn from the speakers, and less concerned with networking?
The way you approach the event, the sessions you choose, and the people you talk to all depend on your reason for being there. Figure out that objective before you hit the conference floor.
2. Figure out who you want to meet before the event
Who’s going to be at the conference?
You probably can’t get the full list of attendees. But you can…
- Follow the conference hashtag on Twitter
- Check the agenda
- Ask your existing network to see who else will be there
If you have people that you know you want to connect with, having that information in advance is a huge advantage. You can brush up on their work or subject area, and prepare a few tailored questions in advance.
This kind of preparation can help you leave an impression, but it also makes conversation easier—because you won’t need to scramble for things to talk about.
3. Connect through pre-event social
People use conference hashtags.
Of course you’ll want to be tweeting during the event (#foreshadowing), but it’s not a bad idea to engage with people on social media before the conference starts.
Twitter and LinkedIn on the usual culprits. Joining in the discussion can give you a sense of who will be there and what they want to talk about. Depending on the size of the conference, it might also lead to in-person conversation starters. “Oh you’re the one who was talking about XYZ on Twitter.”
4. Sleep. Seriously.
Wait, is this a conference tip or a life tip?
It’s both, but it’s especially important for conferences because sleep is the first thing that goes out the window.
If you travel for a conference, it’s easy to wind up low on sleep. You try to go to bed at a normal time, but jetlag gets to you. Or it’s a little harder to fall asleep in a hotel room. Or you stay out late at a conference cocktail party.
You know yourself best, but don’t underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep (and if you aren’t convinced, read this book).
This books covers the latest research on sleep. Seriously, it will change how you think about pillows (Source, Amazon)
You’ll be more alert, better able to learn from the speakers, and feel more comfortable meeting a bunch of new people.
5. Manage your diet
Just like sleep, diet is easy to lose track of when you travel.
Travel messes up your routines. But sleep, exercise, and diet can all have a major effect on your mood and energy. When you go to a conference, have a plan in place to make sure you don’t grab what’s easiest—which is usually some kind of fast food.
It hurts so good. But it will take its toll over the course of a conference.
Packing healthy snacks can help you keep hunger at bay, so you can choose a healthier food option instead of going into a McDonald’s drive-through.
6. Go to the gym
After the last two, you might have guessed this one was coming.
If you’re someone who usually works out, don’t neglect exercise while you’re at the conference. Steal a few moments in the hotel gym—you’ll feel more refreshed and prepared to get what you need out of the conference.
You, between conference sessions?
There’s actually one other potential benefit of going to the hotel gym—you’ll run into other people from the conference, in an environment that’s outside the conference itself.
7. Stay at the conference hotel
The conference hotel is where most conference attendees will be staying. Staying in the conference hotel gives you more opportunities to network with attendees.
That’s just logic.
Staying at the conference hotel might not get you 100 extra connections. But it doesn’t need to. Even if all it leads to is splitting an Uber back from happy hour, or some silence-filling small talk about the shampoo, those little moments can be worth it.
8. Set up an event outside the conference
If you’ve got the resources or know a good chunk of the people going, consider setting up an event outside the conference itself.
You don’t even have to go to the actual conference!
People love conference happy hours and late-night wine tastings. Getting your network together can help you create the kind of small-group environment that leads to meaningful conversations and connections.
9. Review the agenda and pick sessions in advance
You don’t want to be making decisions on the day of the conference. If you have clear objectives, it should be relatively straightforward to pick out the breakout sessions that interest you most.
Which speakers do you want to see? (Source, SEMrush tweet)
If a promising connection is going to a specific session, you can make adjustments when you need to. But reviewing the agenda and having a plan will also help you know which sessions you would be ok missing and which ones are a must-see.
10. Watch videos of the speakers
How do you know which sessions to attend?
Watch videos of the speakers.
Watching videos of the conference speakers before the conference accomplishes two things.
First, it helps you know whether you really want to listen to that speaker. Talk titles give you some information, but sometimes a speaker takes an angle you weren’t expecting, and you lose interest. Watching in advance can avoid that.
For example, this is Unbounce’s Oli Gardner, one of the highest-rated speakers at Activate
Second, it gives you context. If you’re getting exposed to a new idea for the first time during a session, it can be hard to keep up or come up with good questions. When you watch old talks in advance and let ideas germinate, you’ll get more out of the in-person session.
11. Check out a map of the conference space
Surprisingly, most people don’t do this.
Looking at the conference space before you attend minimizes the number of things you need to worry about during the conference itself. You don’t want to be running around, searching desperately for the nearest bathroom. You don’t want to scramble to each session.
When you know where things are and where you’re going, it’s easier to relax, focus on learning, and meet peopl