How to have a blast at a conference:
- Take a conference notebook with you. At every presentation, talk, and keynote you should have a notebook with you that you can write notes in. The notes may be interesting ideas, the names of scholars, cool research someone’s doing, something that applies to your own research, or names for citations. You never know when a great idea will hit or when you’ll stumble across something fascinating! A notebook is also an excellent way to collect business cards, contact information, and receipts. Finally, a notebook is a space where you can let your mind wander during dull parts of the conference – maybe between presenters… or during the presentations that don’t catch your attention. You can doodle, plot for your own research, or whatever you want.
- Keep all your receipts! This is key for being reimbursed by your institution after the conference. Take an envelope or bag with you to keep all the receipts in so that you don’t misplace any of them! Also be sure to keep your bus/train/flight passes for reimbursement.
- Plan your outfits ahead of time for each day of the conference. This will save you time getting dressed in the morning, ensure that you don’t over pack, and guarantee that you don’t pack mismatched clothing pieces.
- Dress for success and true to who you are! The level of formality depends on your conference (ask your supervisor for advice), but expect to dress business casual or nicer. It’s always better to be overdressed rather than under dressed. Make sure to dress in your style too because you will feel more comfortable and make a better impression. If you enjoy wearing 60’s style dresses – wear those dresses! You want to be happy, comfortable, and you want to be yourself! For me, I colour-coordinated all of my outfits, including my socks and ties.
- Practice your presentation. Practice it standing. Practice it in front of people. Practice it in front of a mirror. The better you know your presentation, the more confident you will present and the less nervous you will be. So practice and then practice some more!
- Keep your presentation slides simple (if you’re using PowerPoint), and make the font big. A word-filled slide with small text is hard for the audience to read, and it could be distracting. It’s better to use fewer key words on the slides and have the long sentences in your presentation script or notes.
- If you want a printed script or notes for your presentation, number the pages! That way, if the pages get mixed up, you won’t. I also like to highlight the key points of my presentation so that if you’re running out of time, you know which points to jump to quickly. Locating colourfully highlighted parts is quicker than scanning the page while you’re nervous.
- Plan to arrive early for the conference, even if it’s only a few hours. This will give you time to get settled at your lodging and centre yourself. Maybe you can use the time to explore the city, talk with friends at the conference, get some food, or go over your presentation
- Dine with people! This is an excellent chance to network and make connections – you may find a great friend, a potential supervisor, or discover fantastic research. If there’s a group of people going for out for dinner ask to join them! If you and your friends see someone heading off alone, ask them to join you. The more, the merrier! Remember, conferences are all about making connections and finding out other people’s research innovations.
- Treat networking as an opportunity to make new friends. I feel like the business world has marketed networking as a shallow, competitive activity where one makes elevator pitches and uses people for their connections. If you treat conference networking like that, you’re probably not going to have much fun during the program. Instead, think of it as making new friends across the country or across the globe! Take an interest in people’s research, ask them questions, get excited, be yourself, make jokes, laugh a lot, share stories, and stay in contact.
- Have your contact info ready to give out – and be ready to receive business cards. I’m not sure if academics use LinkedIn, but definitely have your university email and your Facebook handy. As a grad student, I accepted a lot of business cards and wrote a note on them of the person’s research so that I would remember which card belonged to which person. Make sure you email them! I also added a lot of other grad students at the conference on Facebook and Instagram – they’re wonderful ways of staying in touch with people you’ve befriended, and it’s much more casual than email.
- Go to grad student events (if you’re a grad student)! These are specific events organized to introduce students to other students or to faculty that match your interests. Take advantage of these opportunities to socialize and make connections. Plus, they usually come with free food!
- Take pictures with your conference friends, but make sure to ask them for permission first. This is a great way to save memories and stay connected with the great connections you made at the conference. I went to The Qualitatives Analysis Conference recently with a crew of people from sociology at my university. We took some photos together and I’m beyond happy that we did!
Until next time…