Comfortable shoes? Check.
Business cards? Check.
Bag for swag? Check.
There’s something special about attending a conference. The vast over-arching ceilings, thousands of people, free food and fancy booths. All about one may be able to hear the clicks and the clacks of new revolutionary toys bustling around. There is an ever constant murmur in the air that echoes upon the limitless confines of the show room.
As you can tell, I’ve had a good time at conferences.
There’s a few tough points that no one ever speaks to about conferences, though. What about those strange moments of isolation? Those moments where there are thousands and thousands of people chattering away and yet we sit there alone wonder what is wrong this us.
You’re not alone. Literally and figuratively.
Conferences are intimidating and we can shut ourselves down.
I have been a victim of the prideful ego many a times, where I walk into a conference “I am a social person” and by the end of day one I reflect on the two conversations I had wondering where my “swagger” went.
We are going to focus on a common pain.. kicking ass at a conference.
Our team here at SherpaDesk have gone scouring through the internet, reflecting on personal anecdotes and speaking to friends here in California.
This is the advice we gathered.
ONE: Reach out to your network weeks in advance
If you are attending the conference alone, it can be critical to build and reignite old relationships before you get there. We all know how powerful that one wingman can be as someone to share the experience with is so important. Email old clients, vendors, friends or even speakers a few weeks in advance and ask to sit down and catch up over coffee. Thanks Kate Farrar (@KCFarrar) for this one!
TWO: Make friends using the conference hashtag
I attended the HubSpot Inbound conference in Boston, MA, completely alone. At the conference I discovered a hashtag on Twitter called #InboundSolo. It was for attendees who were sent to the event alone. I hopped into the conversation and made a great group of friends to hang with the whole time. Here is a shot of our #InboundSolo crew!
THREE: Don’t go to all of the sessions
This sounds like a major rule breaker. But jam packing your stay in the city you are visiting and cramming 10 hours of knowledge into your head per day makes the conference a chore. The vendors and trade show as 90% of the fun! Let yourself move the direction you want most when you arrive.
FOUR: Put away your phone -- stop checking emails
The world will not burn down if your emails are delayed a response 12 hours. But what if there is an emergency? Whoever it is will call you. Slow down, let yourself breathe. You are at the conference to be at the conference. Don’t leave your brain at the office. Put the phone away while you wait for a new session to start and strike up a conversation.
FIVE: Plan out your “must-see” sessions
Running through the event guide, event by event is critical. I didn’t do this as thoroughly as I had hoped one conference and completely missed a session with a huge idol of mine. I found out he was in attendance when I bumped into him in the hall. A total lucky break.
SIX: Dress comfortably
Attending an event can be exhausting. Our CEO, Pat, said he has attended conferences where he racked up over 30,000 steps on his FitBit. Wear clothes that are both comfortable and able to give you confidence. Shoes are particularly important. Thanks to @yyzhou for the inspiration on this one!
SEVEN Have conversation openers ready
We have compiled some of our favorite conference openers, both anecdotes and from experts online. Put your favorites away in your pocket!
“Did you see all the wacky stuff they’re giving away at the sponsor tables?” @learnvest
“I just tried a slider from the buffet table, and I think I’m going to grab another. Care to join me?” @learnvest
“What’s been your favorite session so far?” @tweetatandrew
"As we're both here at the (buffet, bar, waiting room), I feel I should introduce myself. I'm [name] from [company]." @ainegreaney
Something jokey—like “I just came for these carrot sticks." Then ask a question, like "How'd you hear about this event?" @beetorr
That's all we have got for today.
Go and get 'em.