How to get the most out of a work conference

When you started your career, being sent of a conference was a treat. All those free biscuits, pens and Post-It notes. But cynicism soon kicks in and conferences become a chore. But take heart, there are ways in which that duty-trip to the back-of-beyond can actually turn out rather useful.


Seek out what you don’t know

You can actually learn something from a conference – the chances are if you tune in to the parts of the conference you already know about, you’ll get frustrated (because you know more). Go and listen to the presentations on things you know little about. You’re much more likely to learn something. And don’t forget, that can quite often happen at the smaller conferences… don’t just hit the big ones.

Don’t waste your time
Aside from duty, what’s the purpose of you going? Are you trying, on behalf of your company, to understand a new industry, to talk about a new product, get up-to-date on big issues? Whatever it is, have a good idea, in your head, of why on earth you’re there.

Don’t waste other people’s time either
If you approach fellow delegates and look like you’re only there for the small talk, they’ll decide they are busy. Approach them and say “I only have a couple of minutes, but I have a very quick question…’ then they’ll find the time and you’ve made contact.

See also: Why you should audit your body language in the workplace

Be identifiable
You are much more likely to have people approach you if they can tell who you are. So don’t take off that lanyard the minute you’re through the door. Keep it on so that people feel emboldened to approach you.

If it’s an overnighter – get some rest
Yes, you’re out of town, but this isn’t the time to drink warm wine at some IT company’s reception (even if it is free). Get some rest – you’ll be much better for it on day 2. And you’ll have no regrets about the things you got up to. No people you need to avoid…

Always follow up

If you meet people at an event, always follow up afterwards. Connect on LinkedIn, by all means but use email too. And explain who you were (‘We talked about selling snow in Alaska’) to avoid confusion. And be brief, the follow-up is just to open up a line of communication – fuller conversations can happen later.