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How to survive your first conference

Written by Pieter Mijnendonckx on 30 October 2019 for Tech Professionals

So, you’ve got your first-ever conference booked? That’s cool. Conferences can be fun, exhilarating, and rewarding. Best of all, they give you the opportunity to network and form connections (and even friendships) that can last a lifetime.

If you’re about to pop your conference cherry, it’s natural to feel a little anxious. You may be worried about what to wear, feel stressed about presenting your elevator pitch and maybe you’re even a little unsure about how to, you know, crush it.

If you’re looking for ways to survive your first conference, here are some top tips for making it awesome. Let’s get right to it!

#1 Nail your agenda

Conferences can be a whirlwind of activity, so getting a little bit ‘Type A’ about your agenda is a smart move.

We’re not just talking about traveling to and from the conference, although having a good travel agenda is important – especially if you’re jetting off somewhere exotic! And we’re not just talking about your wardrobe – packing the right clothes just means dressing the way you usually dress, only a little bit smarter (please guys, no bowties unless you’re used to wearing them!).

How to survive your first conference

What we mean by your agenda is planning out exactly what you’ll do during the conference. So, get a hard copy of the conference agenda in advance and start planning out how you’ll navigate the event!

Consider things like:

  • Who do you want to meet?
  • Which sessions and workshops do you want to attend?
  • Which event is your personal ‘must-see’?

When you start writing up your agenda, you’ll probably find several scheduling conflicts. That’s normal. You’ll have to make some tough choices about who to see and who to skip. When finished, your agenda will be your personal roadmap through all the noise and buzz at the conference.

#2 Ask great questions

Once your personal conference agenda is complete, you’ll have a rough idea about who you’ll meet, what they’ll be talking about and the topics you can expect to engage with. To stand out and make more connections during the conference, try to write some really great questions beforehand to ask during the Q&A sessions.

Speakers always appreciate top questions that really dig deeper into a topic. This gives them the chance to give advice about specific problems and address things they maybe didn’t have time for during their presentation.

How to survive your first conference

Best of all, asking questions always gets you noticed! And, when you want to network, getting noticed is half the battle, which leads us to our third tip…

#3 Network like a boss

Think that conferences are only about what you’ll learn? Maybe, but think again…

Conferences are some of the best places to make new professional connections. As we just discussed, asking great questions and getting noticed is half the challenge, but you also need to meet new people, too!

If you’re traveling to a conference with a group of colleagues, it can be tempting to simply stick with people you know. However, this strategy can leave you high and dry when it comes to making some fresh contacts.

To avoid this pitfall, try making a rule that you’ll only sit together with your buddies once or twice during the conference. This gives you the chance to make new connections and branch out on your own.

#4 Let your hair down (a little)

If the conference you’re attending has a cocktail party or another social mixer, don’t be afraid to let your hair down and party! Striking up conversation with a serial investor or a CEO of a top company at a conference bash is networking at its finest, so don’t undervalue parties as way of broadening your professional network. Who knows, you might find yourself owning the dance floor with that same CEO. Trust us, afterwards, he or she will definitely remember you.

 

Parties are a great chance to break free of the usual social constraints and combine good conversation with good dancing. And although we’re not your mother, a small word of advice though; keep yourself in check. Getting blind drunk definitely isn’t cool! So, let your hair down (a little) and see where it leads but keep it professional.

# 5 Share what you learn

When the conference wraps, most people simply head back to work and get going again. But this is a mistake; the post-conference scene can be just as important as the actual event.

For example, the colleagues in your office who didn’t attend the conference are probably interested in your key take-aways. Why not collect your thoughts and give a presentation about what they missed?

You could take things one step further and even write a LinkedIn article or Medium post to share what you learned with the world. Sharing this content with people you met at the conference is a great way to maintain your professional connections too by the way (and it’s an awesome boost for your personal brand).

From engineering student to front end developer

If you’re looking for some inspiration; Not too long ago, three Exellysts flew to Berlin for the yearly JS/CSS Conference and collected their favorite talks and key take-aways in this blogpost.

Conclusion

Whether you’ve got your first conference already booked, or are still in the planning stages, we’re confident that our five tips will help you get the most out of the experience!

So, start writing your agenda, then plan your questions and start brushing up on your networking game. With the right mindset and a focused approach, you’ll crush your first conference like a pro!

Oh, and by the way, no matter which conference, summit or tech festival you’re going to, chances are high you’ll run into an Exellyst. So tell them we said hi!

Written by Pieter Mijnendonckx Digital Growth Marketeer