Conferences are an exhausting way to spend your time, regardless of how productive (or unproductive) they may be. They are a potential avenue for new presentations, meet-ups, and endless conversations.
As such, knowing where to focus your time can be a bit of a hassle. This is especially so if you’re an introvert, which is inherently distinct from shy, and you simply cringe in silent spasms of dread at the thought of small talk.
How do you figure out what sessions to attend, or should you go to the trouble of just attending everything? Should you, perhaps, miss out on some of the keynotes in order to meet an important contact? What if you are an introvert? What do you do then?
Having the answers to such questions before attending any function is almost as fundamental as knowing the recipe before setting out to prepare a meal, or knowing what to pack up before setting out on a journey.
What the Experts Say About Maximizing Your Success at a Tech Conference
Hate them or love them, there are three unavoidable facts of life: death, taxes and professional conferences. This is regardless of whether you’re the everyday outdoorsy type or a nature-hating introvert (or any alternative permutation of these characteristics).
Francesca Gino, a professor at Harvard Business School says, “Even if you’re the kind of introvert whose first instinct would be to stay at home and enjoy a cup of coffee with your cat, you simply must not let such thoughts get the best of you.”
“Skipping conferences is problematic for a variety of reasons. Among these is that you’ll be missing out on the benefits of creating, nurturing, and expanding the networks you already have, and perhaps meeting people who likely have the same interests as you and may end up being very relevant to your work.”
With that said, here are a few ways you can ensure you get the most out of the next few conferences you attend.
1. Get in the Right Mindset
Despite the already well-established facts about having an extensive and diverse network, some people still shy away from the opportunities that present themselves during conferences because they’re unwilling to either take on a suitable persona or, alternatively, be themselves and create lasting friendships and connections.
It’s been said before, but still, bears repeating that having the right mindset does a lot for a person whenever they find themselves at formal social events. Change your mindset and motives to fit a realistic goal of your expectations.
Almost nobody networks because they enjoy it, and anyone who does it does so because it opens up new doors to the best probable outcomes from your career. Keep yourself motivated to go out to conferences, ready to network professionally for the growth and further advancement that it could bring.
2. Set Realistic Goals for Yourself
The gist of it is that you should know what you expect to get out of a conference. Even before you set foot outside the door, have a list of things you expect to achieve by the end of it.
For instance, if you’re looking to expand your company but lack capital, your ideal focus would be a quest for funding, so look for someone who you feel would be interested in your idea enough to help you out. If you’re looking raise brand awareness, connect with someone who knows the ins and outs of the trade or, at the very least, advice on how you could improve customer growth.
If by the end of the day, you’ve ticked off at least half of your goals off the list, there’s a higher chance of you benefiting, rather than simply laying back and waiting for everything to fall into place.
3. Do Some Research
This is an often overlooked aspect of conference meetings, but as unimportant as it may seem, doing some digging on who is going to attend the conference before the actual date is an important part of winning them over.
Weeks before the conference even starts, get to know who is going to be in attendance, then filter this list and find out who you are really interested in. When the time comes, you will already have been prepared days ago.
If possible, you can even send out an email to whoever is on your ‘wish list’ to pre-introduce yourself. If this is a touch too direct, why not get an introduction from a mutual friend or colleague?
4. Manage your Time
Perhaps the most important point to remember is that merely attending the conference isn’t ever enough, and at the end of the day, all that matters is what you gain from the experience. For this reason, how you plan out who to meet, which keynotes will be the most beneficial and which ones to miss out on is an invaluable asset.
When you’re deciding what to attend, consider two things, primarily. Whatever session you pick should either have a goal, something you’ll gain from it at the end of the day, or bear an eventual interpersonal goal.
Simply put, the session should either be educational or you should simply have some interest in whoever’s presenting and wish to meet them. On a lighter note, since it’s often someone famous presenting at keynotes, chances are low you’re going to meet them anyway, so that doesn’t have much networking value, but it’s a great conversation starter.
5. Listen more; Talk less
When you’re attending a networking function and it’s even so much as semi-professional (a group dinner and cocktail reception are good examples), you mustn’t be obtrusive and try to shine in the limelight, hardly giving anyone else time to speak.
You can easily harness the power of empathy by asking thoughtful questions and, in the process, paying attention to how others respond to those questions. Another thing that could potentially help you out is having handy conversation starters to use.
A few examples that are bound to draw interesting responses are: “What project are you working on right now? Mind sharing the details?” or “What sessions are you keen on attending/have you really enjoyed attending today?”
Bonus point: Make Time for Yourself
We get it. Conferences are exhausting work, especially if interacting with new people all day isn’t your forte. By nature, introverts are different in how they manage their pace around people, and how they spend their energy. The key is knowing when you are at your limit.
If you end up in a series of five consecutive days of pushing yourself to attend every single luncheon, cocktail party, and networking reception, you’re probably going to be so worn out at the end of it that you’ll have lost more than the potential gains.
Once the conference is done, make sure you get some rest. Do something restful or relaxing to make sure you’re in the best of shape for the next day (or the next function). This point applies to everyone, regardless of your inclination towards people.
Making sure you eat a proper diet, exercise regularly and get an adequate amount of sleep each day are essential to your physical and mental health, which are equally as important, if not more than, your career.
In summary, here are the dos and don’ts for the next conference you’re going to attend.
- If your mindset is overall negative, shift it to focus on how important networking and meeting new connections is important to your career.
- When trying to decide which session to attend, base your opinion primarily on whether you’re going to meet someone new or, alternatively, learn something new.
- Be sure to do some crucial research on who is going to be in attendance of the event, and, if possible, reach out to them and pre-introduce yourself.
- Talk only as much as you’re invited you. Ask more questions than the number of answers you provide.
- Plan ahead of the meeting. Set some goals regarding who you want to meet, why and what you’re going to gain out of it.
- Spend all your time with your co-workers. If you see them every day and are sure to as soon as the function is over, you don’t need to be with them the whole time. You’re probably missing a chance to shine.
- Burnout. If you’re feeling exhausted at the end of the day, it’s only natural. Give yourself some time to rejuvenate and recover from all the day’s activities.
- Wear a fake persona. Sure, it can be useful at times, but more often than not, people can see right through you and immediately lose trust. Besides, it’s exhausting work to try to be someone you’re not.
- Talk too much. It’s a basic rule of thumb for any conversation, really, and goes without saying, but if you find yourself in a position where you’re always talking about yourself the whole time, you’re probably doing it wrong. Give the other person more time to talk about themselves.