Last month, I joined my conference-savvy co-author Kara at the Legal Marketing Association’s National Conference in Las Vegas. Although I’ve been to numerous large events for various associations, this was my first major conference experience, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous. But, meeting my clients face to face, listening to the same sessions they do, and what concerns/questions they raised was invaluable. I also walked away with a number of tips for any first-time conference goers, who aren’t as lucky as I am to have someone like Kara to show them the ropes:
1. Do change up who you sit with. It is easy to meet a person and follow them around for the next two days….until they hand you a restraining order. You’re there to learn and network, and so is everyone else. You’ll connect with some more than others, but try to use every session, networking event and luncheon to meet new people.
2. Don’t forget to bring some comfy shoes. I bought a pair of new leopard print wedges that I thought would be perfect. And they were, for the first four hours. During the next four, my hate for anything leopard gradually increased, which is a problem when you’re in Las Vegas.
3. Do have a glass of wine, or two with colleagues and/or clients. It’s okay, really. I think somewhere early on I was told to NEVER drink in a professional setting. I realize now that’s beacause “College Jenna” probably shouldn’t have. We’re all professional adults now, loosen up and have a little fun with your peers.
4. …but don’t let “College [Insert your name here]” come out. Going back to point 3…a couple glasses of wine, cool. Shots of Fireball Whiskey…probably not, even in Vegas.
5. Do practice your networking skills before you go. This isn’t selling, or flirting, or just free lunch. This is about listening and making connections. Make sure you understand the difference.
6. Do take some time to relax. These things are exhausting. If you get too tired, your ability to connect with people goes down hill, especially when you’re yawning in the middle of a conversation. If you need to skip a session or event for a power nap, or a minute to recharge, do it.
7. Do perfect your handshake. Try it on a friend or colleague before you go. Think strong and confident, not dead fish.
8. Do dress appropriately. A conference is a not a time for you to try out that new mini skirt you bought or or break in those jean shorts. Play it safe the first day, and if you feel over-dressed, leave the jacket in the hotel room on the second. Not the other way around.
9. Don’t forget your business cards. Having to reply “I forgot them” every time someone asks for your card not only gives the impression you’re forgetful, it also gets very old, very fast.
10. Most important: don’t make it a one night stand. You will meet many people while at a conference. Take their card, give them yours (because you remember them right), and write a note to remember them by. DO NOT blow off following-up with them when you get home.
Attending a conference is such a rewarding part of your career and can lead to some invaluable connections. Control what you can, and be ready for anything. And, above all…have some fun.