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If you’re reading this post, then it’s probably because you are attending an event, and you’re looking for professional conference tips! I’ve attended many a business conference and networking event, and I often coach my clients on how to stand out (in a good way) at a professional conference.
This post is about how to stand out at a professional conference.
Attending a professional conference IRL or on Zoom can be a bit intimidating. Conferences are usually a pretty solid investment, and the real ROI comes from meeting people! I’ve divided up today’s blog post with my professional conference tips for in-person conferences and virtual events.
No matter the kind of event you attend, remember that everyone is coming to this conference with the goal of meeting people! You’ll feel awkward getting outside of your comfort zone, and that’s ok!! Embrace feeling a bit awkward.
Professional Conference Tip #1: Get Business Cards
For the first professional conference tip on my post, we’re going OLD SCHOOL. Many a conference attendee will have a digital business card with a QR code, but there’s something about handing a physical business card that makes you more memorable. Additionally, you can write a note on your card before handing it over, noting what session or event you met at.
When I’m attending a multi-day conference, I like to take photos of business cards and upload them to my Google Drive when I’m back at my hotel room!
Speaking of hotel rooms, that brings me to the second business conference tip!
When buying business cards, I got mine from Moo.com! If you need a budget-friendly option, you can go with Vista Print!
Professional Conference Tip #2: Stay at the Hotel Block
When organizing a conference, event planners will often purchase rooms for attendees (this is called a “block” of rooms). When going to a conference or event, you want to be sure to stay at the hotel that’s recommended by the conference.
You may want to save a few bucks by staying at another hotel, but often the time (and money!) spent on traveling to the event each day eats up your savings. (Womp Womp.)
I talked about this tip in my post about business travel for folks with ADHD, but it’s true for everyone!
Additionally, I have found some of the best networking at business and professional conferences happens *not* during sessions, but in the “in-between space” outside of them. This includes the hallway outside of a session, elevators, the tradeshow floor and, you guessed it, the hotel bar, restaurant and elevators. Staying in the official conference hotel not only saves you time, but it also helps you network with other attendees!
Professional Conference Tip #3: Use Twitter
For every professional conference I’ve gone to, I’ve used Twitter to network with other attendees (those onsite and those who are virtual)! A ton of really great networking can happen on Twitter.
It can be hard to know how to use twitter to network at a conference, so here are some tips:
- Use the official conference hashtag when sharing tweets about the event
- In a specific session or keynote, write out a quote from a speaker and post it to Twitter. If possible, tag the speaker (they’ll often have their twitter handle somewhere on their slides)
- Share conference tips with other attendees (restaurants, after hour events, etc), as well as compliments to the conference planners
- Click on the hashtag for the event and COMMENT on other people’s tweets. Favorites aren’t going to do much for you
If you want to be really bold, you can tweet out an invitation to get lunch. Something like, “Hey, I’d love to get lunch with some new folks at #ConferenceHashtag. Send me a DM if you’re down!”
All in all, you’ll want to aim for tweeting at least 3-4 times a day, and reply to at least 5 people a day. if you’re attending a business conference virtually, double those numbers!
Need a Twitter buddy? Join me on Twitter here!
Professional Conference Tip #4: ACCESSORIZE
I shared this hot professional conference tip with a client on a recent call, and she loved it. You ready? Here it is:
When going to a professional conference, select a bright or noticeable accessory to wear each day. This accessory does a few things:
- Gives people a reason to strike up a conversation with you, by complimenting your rad accessory
- Makes you more memorable! People will remember seeing you and strike up a conversation
When it comes to a noticeable accessory, your best bet is a bright bag or backpack, or bright glasses. The most effective colors I have found are yellow, red and animal print. If you’re not into animal print, no worries, lol!
Your goal is to get noticed with this accessory, so if you’re a little self-conscious — that’s ok!!
Here are a few accessories to check out:
Professional Conference Tip #5: Bring Items to Share
“Sharing is caring!” as the old adage goes. I’ve found one of the best ways to network at a conference is by bringing extra of what everyone needs.
I spend $20 – $50 on specific items that I know folks will appreciate, and I hand them out to people who are sitting nearby. Now to be clear, these items are NOT branded. That ruins the point of a gift, in my opinion.
Here are some helpful items to pack:
- A couple dozen cheap fans (if you’re going somewhere hot!)
- Rain ponchos
- Pens & Sharpies
- Portable fans
- Small bottles of sunscreen
People probably won’t want to accept snacks or a small water bottle from a stranger, but you never know! You can offer people an item when you sit next to them at a session, at least, that’s my go-to networking move!
Professional Conference Tip #6: Look for Lurkers
At every business or professional event, I find the easiest way to network is to look for folks who are at the event — but are kind of on the outskirts. These folks are making an effort to be at the event, but they may find it hard to strike up a conversation.
I find it’s easiest to network with these people is by saying, “Hi, my name is (xxxxxx). I have a goal to meet 7 new people a day at this conference. Can I ask you why you came?”
People LOVE to come to the rescue of someone with a goal, and helping you can psychologically put them in a more “powerful” position.
And if the conversation gets awkward and you can tell the other person wants to escape, you can say. “Well, time for me to go talk to person #4!” and you’re off!
Does this feel a little awkward? Yes. But good things don’t come from comfort zones.
Professional Conference Tip #7: Volunteer
If you’d rather eat glass than strike up a conversation with someone, then a great way to network is by volunteering for the conference. Being a volunteer means you’ll have an excuse to talk to people, and you’ll likely make friends that way.
Most professional conferences have a section on their network for volunteers. I recommend starting with a low level of commitment. If you love volunteering, you can always take on more responsibilities later!
If you’re not able to commit to volunteering, you can endeavor to help out volunteers during the conference! Fold up chairs, help move tables, pass out materials, etc. Having a task means you have a reason to talk to people!
Professional Conference Tip #7: Apply to Speak or Be on a Panel
Many folks don’t know this, but you can apply o be a speaker or panelist at a professional conference. Payment can vary (my post on getting paid to speak at a conference HERE), and sometimes a conference will only offer a gratis or price-reduction on your ticket.
When you first start out, it may be worth it to be a speaker for free. You’ll be in front of an audience of people, and your 1 hour panel acts as a sort of intro to all the people in attendance. Those in the audience will feel like they know you, and they’ll makeit a point to talk to you!
When speaking, be sure to share a CTA (call to action) for folks to connect with you on Twitter or LinkedIn. I’ve gotten clients, made new friends and gained a host of opportunities from speaking at a conference.
This post was about how to stand out at a professional conference.
Want More Professional Conference Tips?
If you’d like help strategizing or planning your own conference (as an organizer or attendee), then I’d love to work with you! You can book a one-off consulting session or we can work together on a longer term basis.
What to Read Next
Below, I’ve shared a few other guides and posts I’ve written to help folks grow their professional brand:
- How to Get Paid to Speak at a Business Conference
- How to Start Moonlighting as a Consultant
- 11+ *BEST* Tips for ADHD Business Travel | My Advice