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7 Tips for Attending Conferences

Tips for attending conferences

It’s PMI EMEA Global Congress in London next week so time to dust off your networking skills and get organised for the conference. The more preparation you put into any event before you go, the more you will get out of it, whether that’s a small social gathering at work or a huge industry congress.

Here are some tips to help you plan.

1. Before you go: Pack light

Take the minimum amount of stuff with you. You won’t need a notebook: any good conference organiser will provide copies of slides and blank paper for notes. So don’t load yourself up with unnecessary things and keep your handbag small.

One exception to that rule: if you are going to a big event where there will be stalls, pack a collapsible bag for all your freebies and documents. You won’t be able to walk past a stall without getting a host of leaflets (and samples if you are lucky) thrust at you. Even if you are just going to a day of sit-down lectures, there will still be lecture notes, pens and company flyers for you to take away.

2. Before you go: Charge your gadgets

If you are going to take notes on a tablet or expect to tweet live from the event using your phone, make sure they have enough power. Being tethered to a power socket in the corridor of a hotel is not a good look.

3. Before you go: Review the schedule

PMI EMEA has multiple streams: most conferences work like this (Synergy doesn’t). Save yourself time on the day by working out which presentations you want to see. Review the schedule. Research the topics or the speakers. Plan your day around the events that you most want to see and be prepared to be flexible about the others.

If you don’t see anything on the schedule that inspires you, take the hour off.

If you don’t see anything on the schedule that inspires you, take the hour off. It’s OK to sit in the lounge area, peruse the exhibition hall or get to the front of the coffee queue while everyone else is in presentations, as long as you still feel you are getting value for money from the day. Conferences are an investment in yourself and your career. Don’t waste them.

4. Before you go: Get business cards

Take business cards to hand out at every (relevant) opportunity, and so you don’t look stupid when someone gives you theirs and you can’t pass them one back. Mine are from Moo* and they are very good quality and I have uploaded lots of pictures to go on the back. They are also handy to drop into free prize draws if you accept the fact you will then get email newsletters from the company forever and a day (unsubscribe as soon as you can if you don’t find them interesting – there is no shame in just entering the contest for the free stuff).

When you are given a business card, write a description of the person on the back (when they aren’t looking, obviously) so that when you get home you have a fighting chance at remembering who was who.

5. Before you go: Make a hit list

Conferences aren’t only about the presentations. You’ll also have coffee breaks, lunch and movement between groups to find yourself pressed into talking to strangers. Chatting to them is networking (and you can read here why networking is important for your career) so plan in advance who you want to talk to.

It might sound daunting, but the alternative is hanging out with the colleagues you attended with and see every day anyway – not much new to learn from them. Or being the loner in the corner – nothing wrong with that either, and I do like to build some ‘alone’ time into my conference days, but too much of that turns into a wasted opportunity.

At an event like PMI EMEA or an APM conference, you’ll be able to see the speaker list and many people will be sharing whether they are attending or not on their social media pages. Or you could just ask if they will be there – email or tweet them.

Conferences are a great opportunity to meet people you’ve only chatted to on social media and pre-arranged meetings like that give you something to do in the breaks. Make a list of the people you want to see and warn them in advance that you’ll be seeking them out!

6. On the day: Wear your badge

Wear your name badge. Wear a neckline that’s appropriate for chest-level glances.

Never pin your badge to your waistband – no one will be able to see it which makes it harder for them to start conversations with you.

7. On the day: Edit your badge

It’s OK to take your badge out of its plastic holder and write something on it. I have added my Twitter handle (@pm4girls) to many a conference badge. If the details on your badge are pretty meaningless, add something else, like your department.

Write big though, those badges are hard enough to read as it is.

Happy conference season!

*That’s an affiliate link: no extra cost to you but a weeny commission to me to help keep this site running. Thanks!

About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin FAPM is a professional project manager and award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.
Elizabeth lives in the UK with her family. She uses her organisation and project management skills at home, and also to help other bloggers at Totally Organised Blogging.

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