Get Your Game Face On: Tips on Surviving Professional Conferences


After a recent trip as an exhibitor at a professional conference promoting the career opportunities for my organization, I gained some great insight into the conference life. Here are a few tips and suggestions for your next professional conference.

  1. Follow Up: You will inevitably come home with a stack of business cards and email contacts after any conference (don’t forget to bring yours, by the way!) and the temptation once you get back to your office is to throw them in a roll-a-dex and never return to them again. However, as a best practice your goal should be to send a follow-up email to each person within 1-2 days after the conference ends (after that, the people you met are going to forget you too). Don’t depend on them to follow up; take the lead, connect and demonstrate your commitment to collaboration. **Special note if this connection was more about a job opportunity or business partnership: you still want to follow up in a timely manner and show how the partnership could be mutually beneficial by doing your research. Also, ask for the best contact that aligns with your interests; there are many parts to the organization and chances are the person you talked to is not the person you need, but they can connect you. Handing someone a business card or pamphlet and hoping they remember to get it to the right person within their organization and relay all the great info you gave them about what you do is naïve.
  2. Looking for a job? Talk to everyone: Not everyone may be hiring but some entities may be able to create a temporary research position or carve out a fellowship if you ask and are willing to do your share of the work. Once you create those contacts, look into the organizations. What are their mission statements? What are their focuses? Do they sound interesting to you? (Remember, the hiring process is a two-way street: it has to fit for you too!) Many organizations have minimum qualifications for a job but most hiring managers now are also looking for the soft skills: leadership, conflict resolution, strategic thinking. You can learn the job-specific skills if you don’t already know their internal system, but what you really want is to highlight what sets you apart. You never know where a good lead can come from, so talk to everyone.
  3. Don’t be pushy about the swag: Exhibitors have a job to do. Please pay them the courtesy to let them give you the 30-second elevator speech before you take one of everything and walk away. Yes, that USB drive shaped like a stick of gum is really cool but you just look grabby and frankly rude when you take things without talking to anyone. Again, you never know where a good lead is going to come from: talk to everyone you can.
  4. Wear comfortable shoes: this one seems simple but I know for some, both male and female, there is a proclivity to wear the most polished/stiffest loafers or a favorite pair of heels that you own because you feel fabulous. Keep in mind, the average attendee walks at least 5 miles a day and you no longer look cute or professional when you are limping by 2 in the afternoon. Really it just looks like you didn’t think ahead which doesn’t present the image you want to convey.
  5. Drink water: No, this is not a sporting event but you are talking, walking, climbing stairs, running to make the next seminar… and your body will thank you. **This is especially important if you live in a lower altitude and are attending a conference, say, in Denver. Don’t potentially miss out on the whole experience due to illness by letting this simple one slip through the cracks.
  6. Make a plan for your time: Before the conference, most organizers will post an agenda of events. Take some time to utilize this resource and plan out what talks you want to attend, which vendors you want to make sure you see, and which seminars you want to participate in. That way you won’t be left out when you hear everyone talking about that amazing keynote that you missed because you didn’t plan ahead. Again, ‘pre-search’ is key to this success.
  7. Exhibitor to Exhibitor interactions: Don’ts: ask for free stuff-you know they want to hand it to the people who are potential connections, just like you do; come when your fellow exhibitor is busy-taking time away from their booth in the middle of a wave of people is frustrating. If you must visit, come back when the crowds die down. Do: be personable and have fun with those around you-you’re all in it together.
  8. Exhibitor to Attendee interactions: Don’ts: be distracted by your phone-you can’t interact and connect if you are scanning your Facebook as people walk by; hold people hostage with never ending conversations-the attendees have other obligations so know when to release. Do: be prepared with short version of what you do-it will help streamline the process of what you do as people are making connections.
  9. Attendee to Exhibitor interactions: Don’t: criticize the booth, ideas or process the exhibitors are utilizing-i.e. condemning someone for having candy on their table because it’s not healthy just makes you look like a curmudgeon. Do: speak up when you are talking-you are in an exhibit hall full of people and the noise can make conversation difficult.

Have more ideas you want to share or tips that helped in conferences past? Leave them in the comments section so we can add them to the list!

Kellen Sweny is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Kellen Sweny

Hi Jennie, it was more so intended as a lighthearted reminder to those with good intentions of looking good and weighing that with the option of feeling good at the end of the day too. I meant no disrespect to those with physical ailments or impairments. Just speaking from personal experience, I am much more engaged at a conference when I am comfortable and wanted to pass that reminder along in an effort to be helpful.