1. Get your image ready
If you’ve been putting off getting business cards printed, setting up social media accounts, or making your website shine, a conference might be just the wake-up call you need. We all know conferences are great places to network, formally and informally, but those connections won’t do you much good if they don’t last. Make sure you have an easily accessible virtual presence and plenty of business cards.
2. Master your networking routine
During a conference, you talk to a lot of people and receive a lot of business cards. Whenever you receive a business card, pull out a pen and quickly make note of who gave you the card, what they do, and what you talked about. Make note of whatever you have to in order to jog your memory after the conference, and with those notes on hand, follow up! On the flip side, make sure you are good at introducing yourself. Show up armed with several one-sentence introductions about yourself, where you are in your career, your interests, and what you are hoping to get out of the conference.
3. Research and connect
Once you’ve registered for a conference, get your hands on the schedule and program. Read through what the conference has to offer and think about where you want to spend your time. You’ll avoid information overload on the day of conference, and you’ll also have time to do extra research on the presenters and topics that interest you beforehand so you can get the absolute most out of your sessions. You can also use social media to connect with other attendees that share your particular interests before you arrive.
Conferences allow you to mingle with people from all levels and corners of your industry. They also drive home a point that everyone is prone to forgetting: the people we admire most are still just people! The woman sitting next to you at a panel could easily be a famous author looking forward to hearing her peers speak on a subject that interests both of you. You know you’ve got something in common already, so go ahead and strike up conversation. If you’re shy, prepare conversation starters that will get other people talking, and make use of social media to put yourself out there so people will approach you.
5. Keep an open mind
Maybe you won’t get to do everything you wanted to do, or you won’t get your first choice at every session. Branch out! If you’re a journalist, you may (understandably) not be terribly excited about attending a panel on young adult fantasy novels, but make the most of it. The people on that panel are most likely there because they are excellent at what they do– surely all of them could teach you something valuable, even if you don’t care for witches and vampires. Talk to people who occupy different parts of your industry, and recognize that everyone you meet knows something you don’t.
6. Take care of yourself
Conferences will make your brain jump for joy, but they are draining, both physically and mentally. The combination of long days, information overload, unpredictable food, cocktail hours galore, travel, and countless handshakes often result in a post-conference slump colloquially called “con drop.” Give yourself a fighting chance to avoid it by staying on top of your most basic needs for food, water, and rest. Give your brain breaks, too! If at all possible, allow yourself a little time to decompress upon returning home instead of jumping right back into your usual routine.