How To Make A Good Impression At Your First Professional Conference

Nervous about attending your first conference? Here's a look at the ins and outs of successfully representing your company.


Erin Stanton, Marketing and Public Relations, SalientMG | Source: Courtesy Photo

Professional conferences are an excellent way to boost your skills, expand your network, and hear the latest news in your industry. Here’s a look at the ins and outs of successfully representing your company at your first conference.

I recently was asked to represent SalientMG at The 3% Conference in Washington, DC. It was my first conference, and I planned to attend solo. Naturally, I was a little worried about how to approach, what to wear, what to bring, what to expect, what to do, and how to act – the whole nine yards. I wanted to be prepared.

Here’s what I learned:

 

How to approach

Set yourself up for success and outline some objectives. In my case, the goal was to engage and create content to share via social media and post-conference blog posts, highlighting some of the key discussions.

 Photo by David Fitzgerald/Web Summit via Sportsfile
Photo by David Fitzgerald/Web Summit via Sportsfile

I was also tasked to learn how to navigate a room and start conversations with my industry peers. Finally, I needed to absorb the whole experience so I could share it with others in the company who will find themselves in the same position at some point.

 

What to wear

Read the guidelines for the conference plan to attend. On some occasions, it will notify you of the attire. In my case, it was business casual, so I wore black pants with a black top and white blazer. 

A trick I learned to look as approachable as possible, is to find a statement piece – whether that’s a specific piece of jewelry that helps you stand out, a bright colored top, a fun printed accessory (bag, tie, etc.). 

Given the networking aspect of conferences, wear attire that makes people feel welcome to chat. I had a bright pink bag. Men, fun lapel pins, or pocket squares work for you. Not only will you be easier to speak with, but also, if you ask specific questions, people are more likely to recognize that small quirk in your outfit and speak to you later as well. 

The biggest piece of advice when it comes to clothes is to wear either a blazer, a sweater, or dress in layers. Event spaces, particularly auditoriums, are typically freezing, and you’ll want to be comfortable so you can focus on the speakers.

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What to bring

I wasn’t sure what to expect since every conference is different, so I over-prepared. I typically like to take notes on my laptop so I can keep up with what’s being said at a faster speed. However, I brought a small notebook just in case the crowd wasn’t pleased with the glow. I’m so glad I did. Not a soul in my conference was using their laptop, so I stuck to writing things down. Bring both (or a tablet/iPad instead of a laptop).

I know plenty of conferences that don’t mind electronic devices but prepare to ensure you have a readily available means of notetaking. Also, bring business cards. There are typically opportunities at every conference to network, and if there are possible business opportunities, it’s the quickest way to exchange contact details. Conference rooms can be stuffy and dry as well, so bring water.

 

What to expect

You will most likely feel “the first day of school” vibes when you’re trying to meet people at a conference. It’s okay. A lot of people feel slightly uncomfortable at first. To get past that sense of trepidation, introduce yourself to people and ask plenty of questions.

hoto by David Fitzgerald/Web Summit via Sportsfile
Photo by David Fitzgerald/Web Summit via Sportsfile

For example, I would say, “This is my first conference. Do you have any good advice for the day or recommendations?” This was the best ice breaker. People love to tell you their opinions, give advice, and feel valued.

Also, you’ll be sitting down a lot during the conference, so make sure you like the seat you’re in and try to talk with the people around you since they might be who you eat lunch with later.

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Last bit of advice. A lot of conferences offer breakfast and/or a networking hour before the conference starts or during registration hours. Some will offer informal networking events the night before the start of multi-day conferences. Attend these pre-event gatherings when possible, but don’t show up exactly on time. You’ll be one of the few people there, and it could start the conference off on an uncomfortable note.

 

What to do

I had specific things I wanted to accomplish on my list and a few things I wanted to do personally. Without objectives, I would have felt a bit lost. But I researched the speakers and prepared for the sessions ahead of time.

As a result, I took pages of notes during the conference, made industry connections, and even introduced myself to a potential business partner. I walked away inspired by the diversity of thought, experience, and approaches to the world from various speakers. If you don ‘t have formal business objectives, make a few for yourself – it gives you an anchor on-site, so you don’t feel aimless.

 

Tackle your next conference with confidence

I loved my first conference experience. It was very intimidating at first, but I gained so much from hearing new perspectives and opinions. I truly believe it helped my professional career more than I honestly thought possible.

My advice for your next conference is to be prepared but relax. Embrace the overall experience. Enjoy the conference, smile a lot, and introduce yourself to speakers. You won’t regret it.

 

Erin Stanton is the marketing and public relations manager at SalientMG, a New York-based consulting firm that provides nontraditional go-to-market strategies and executive visibility for underrepresented professionals. A devoted marketing professional, Erin utilizes her blended background of sales, marketing, communications and project management to leverage best practices and provide valuable advice for young professionals struggling to break into the market. Erin graduated from The University of Alabama with a degree in marketing, Roll Tide!

 
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