Guide to Conference Preparation
Conferences have become a large aspect of business, advocacy and youth work as well as a longstanding feature of academia. While most academics and business people are often seasoned conference goers, newcomers to the arena can sometimes feel intimidated and overwhelmed. Here are a few practical tips to help you prepare for conferences and make the most out of them. Be Informed: Collect as much information as you can. What are the themes and objectives of the conference, who are the donors, what organisation is hosting the conference and the like. Information of this nature allows you to make the most of the opportunity and present yourself as someone who is serious about being there. What’s Expected of You: Why are you going to this conference? Were you chosen to attend? Why were you chosen? You’ll want to make sure you can live up to the application you sent in if you applied to attend the conference. If you are expected to have a paper ready before the conference it is important that you get this done. If you are representing a specific organisation or will be advocating on a particular topic, read up. Apply the first point – be informed. Your Goals: Set a few goals for each specific conference. It might be to learn a certain skill, connect with a particular group of people or learn more about a specific topic. How will you know if the conference has been useful if you don’t set goals and then reflect on them at the end of the conference? Who Else is Going: Most conferences offer participant lists, or at the very least, a list of speakers or presenters. This is handy as it allows you to see, at a glance who else is going and the organisations that will be represented. This helps if you are particularly keen on meeting someone or connecting with a particular organistion. I do not like leaving encounters of this nature to chance and if there are many people attending, it is useful to have a mental (or paper) list of people you really want to connect with. If there isn’t a handy list, you could always use social media to seek out other participants. Scan the Schedule: If the conference schedule is available make a list of all the sessions that may be of interest to you and rank them in order of preference. This way if your first session of choice is full, you are not wasting any time figuring out what the other sessions are and if you want to attend. It is worth keeping in mind that it is unlikely that all the sessions are going to be useful for you, so mindfully really narrow it down to the ones you think will be of greatest interest and will help you achieve your conference goals. Look Up and Connect With the Speakers: Look up as many of the speakers as you can. This can be done through their websites, published work or even social media (this is not to suggest you try adding them as Facebook friends, keep it professional). Try to get a better feel of who they are and how their work might relate to yours. A Contact Card or Business Card: Not everyone has or wants a business card, for many years I was in the latter category but now I use them a lot. I do not suggest simply handing them out to groups of people (and yes, sadly this happens). If you’re presenting at a conference, you can leave your contact cards at the venue so people can help themselves. For people I have engaged in conversation with, I might scribble words of thanks (‘thank you for the wonderful insight into the work you’re doing’). This personal touch can make all the difference in helping you (and your card) stand out to someone who has perhaps ‘collected’ a stack of business cards. [To be able to write on your cards ensure that they are printed on material that allows you to easily write on them without smudging] Conferences by nature can be exhausting and it is very easy to become overwhelmed. By spending time carefully thinking about your goals and what you wish to accomplish, your attendance at conferences can become more productive and enjoyable.