Conventions and conferences are great opportunities for networking, education, and even sales and marketing. For many first time attendees, however, they can feel lonely and sometimes people report feeling bored. This is the opposite of what the organizers want you to feel. The whole point of these events is to get attendees jazzed about their fields and excited to keep building their own place within that conference’s community. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your next (or your first!) conference or convention.
Download the App
Many conferences and conventions are shifting away from paper-based programs and announcement fliers and opting to use an event app. These apps often contain the schedule events, maps of the site, lists of vendors and merchants, lists of speakers, etc. These apps also usually have conversational functionality built in to them. This allows attendees to leave feedback for speakers and vendors in real time, alert event staff about problems and even connect with other attendees in a safe digital space. The event app is a godsend for event attendees who are shy or introverted.
Join the Group
Many event organizers will set up forums and Facebook groups for their attendees. These spaces can be great for finding lodging roommates, sharing details and local hints about the venue and its surrounding neighborhood, planning shadow events of your own, and more. Most of all, these spaces allow you to make contacts and form relationships before the event begins. This is especially helpful if you don’t have a friend or “Con Buddy” to attend with you. Participate in these spaces so you won’t have to feel as much like the new kid trying to navigate a new school when the event starts.
This is going to be difficult for you type A and over-scheduling types out there but hear us out: it is good to plan ahead but don’t try to schedule every minute of the event in advance. Instead pick one or two things that you absolutely cannot miss per day and go with the flow the rest of the time. This will leave you free to, for example, go grab a bite with new friends, walk the vendor hall (if there is one) or go to a panel or talk you hadn’t planned on. Having one or two things helps give your days structure so you don’t feel overwhelmed by choices but leaves you free enough to be spontaneous.
This is especially true if the conference or convention is a multi-day event. There are likely going to be several different types of activities happening over the course of the event. Find out exactly what dress code is required for each of them before you go so you can make sure that you pack properly. And remember, the lighter you pack, the better off you will be. For example: do you really need your laptop? Or will your tablet do just as well? If there is only one formal event, do you really need three different outfit choices? No. Pack one. That said, there are a few items you must have no matter what sort of conference or convention you are attending:
Comfortable shoes: you’ll be on your feet a lot. Wear your most comfortable shoes so that your feet don’t hurt too badly at the end of the day.
Deodorant/Anti-perspirant: You are going to be in a space with lots of people. The more people packed into a room, the warmer that room will be. Carry your deodorant or antiperspirant with you so that the odor that makes everybody’s nose wrinkle won’t be your fault.
Snacks: it’s easy to lose track of time during these events and forget to eat. Having a granola bar and other small/portable snacks in your bag can help you mitigate that “hangry” feeling that tends to pop up in the afternoons.
Hand Sanitizer: You’ll be meeting lots of people and shaking lots of hands and touching lots of things other people have touched. You won’t have time to wash your hands in between each of these activities or greetings. Carrying a travel bottle of hand sanitizer is a good way to keep the germs at bay if you don’t have the chance to dash off for a quick handwash between panels or social activities. It’s also a good idea to work on boosting your immune system for a week or two before the event. Con crud is real and it is terrible.
Finally: remember to try to have fun. Conferences and conventions aren’t meant to be super serious. They’re meant to be entertaining and energizing. It’s okay and even encouraged to let loose!