Surviving Professional Conferences

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I’ve accumulated more than a few lanyards. Eaten tons of bland conference food. And sat through my share of presentations – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Professional conferences are simply a necessary career evil. But, great ideas and collaborations are born through chance hallway meetings and after hours events.

Surviving the travel, inconveniences, disconnection, and cost of attending conferences can be a very close run thing. Conferences can be tremendously worthwhile – if you put in the work.

For Organizers:

  • Leave ample time between sessions for networking. Many conferences – especially academic symposia – tend to cram too many sessions into too little time – with little to no time for sessions to complete, questions to be asked, or networking to occur.
  • Make event particulars – date, time, venue, transportation, accommodations – easy to find. Corollary – every sizeable event should either have a conference app, or a responsive site, that allows participants to connect with other attendees, view the agenda, plan sessions they’ll attend – and provide feedback.
  • Have an easy way to find, and get, all presentation slides shown at the conference. This is a challenge at most conferences I’ve ever attended.

For Presenters:

  • Plan for stuff to go wrong. Because it will.
  • Please don’t read your slides, word for word.
  • If you can’t read a slide, don’t show it. Include those slides online, for later consumption.

For Attendees:

  • You’re there at cost to someone (you or your company). Make the effort to make connections, and to engage.
  • Mine the transitions between sessions for conversations, and just plain ol’ serendipity. This is where the real conference discoveries happen – outside the ballroom, in the hallway.

Professional conferences can indeed be a drag. You can also discover amazing people, and great ideas. You just have to do more than simply be present.

Go, and be you.


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