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Preparing for Your First Conference

Conferences provide great opportunities to network with professionals and learn best practices in your field. In order to set yourself up for the best experience, aim to do most of your work before you leave home.

Set Goals

Plan out what you want to accomplish at the conference. Consider your personal and professional goals, and how they relate to your reasons for attending. Map out a list of the breakout sessions/presentations you would like to attend. Read through the program to get a sense of what topics seems most interesting and relevant to you. Conferences can be overwhelming with the wide range of activities going on, so you should figure out how your time can be spent the most effectively; be sure to leave some breaks throughout the day.

Identify attendees

Review the list of conference attendees to decide which people you'd most like to meet. Consider connecting with them on LinkedIn in advance, so you can schedule time for a face-to-face meeting at the conference. In addition, spend time researching the speakers. Check out their online presence - listen to their podcasts, read their blogs and/or any articles.  If you plan on speaking with him/her, you can mention a few key points you learned from your research.

Participate

Aim to be an active rather than a passive participant at the conference. Engage in the sessions by offering comments, telling stories, suggesting solutions and providing examples. A lot of the learning that happens at a conference comes through interacting with others.

Write down the detailed notes from each session you attend. Consider how you might use what key takeaways you learned in your day-to-day job. Make it a priority to take away at least one idea, tool, concept or piece of information that can be applied to your work. 

It’s a good idea to prepare your elevator pitch when someone asks, “What do you do?” This statement should include a few sentences that highlights your skills - try to be memorable.

You may also want to consider volunteering at a conference. Serving as a volunteer will allow you to obtain some professional experience, meet other conference goers and fully experience the conference as it is taking place.

Follow up

Sort your cards and the connections you made at the event. Reach out to others and look for ways to help, share and collaborate on new projects. This is a great way to build professional networks over time!

Share

Once you return, arrange a time that you can discuss your conference experience and pass out any materials/handouts with your colleagues. Sharing key takeaways will allow others to learn and apply the ideas and strategies gathered.

Ultimately, conferences can be highly effective at helping you advance a wide range of professional objectives. The best way to make a great impression is to plan ahead. Take the extra time to prepare and you’ll reap the benefits!

“Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.”
–Bobby Unser

About the author

Kaitlin Schafer

Kaitlin Schafer is a Career Counselor at Engineering Career Services.