For some people, conferences are professional playgrounds that they look forward to for months; for others, conferences are a source of anxiety and pressure.
Anyone who’s anyone is going to be there, so how can you prepare and brush up on conference dos and don’ts? You’re in the right place. Here’s our guide to conference etiquette.
Remember, this is work
You might be out of the office, but that doesn’t mean you’ve got a day off. Conferences are essential for growth in many professions, and should therefore be considered important events that you must make the most of.
Dress smart (assuming it’s for business) and do your research before you arrive. Most schedules, speakers and other events taking place throughout the conference will be published online prior to the event these days, so you can plan your time and have a good idea of what you can and can’t miss. It will make you sound knowledgeable in conversation with your peers, and could mean you recognise reputable speakers that you never would have before. Not knowing the program will make you seem unprofessional and unprepared, not to mention stressed.
Target individuals, but don’t over-do it
In your preparation it’s likely you’ve scheduled in plenty of lectures/seminars and the like, but make sure you keep space open for one-to-one meetings and general schmooze time, too. After all, conferences are a great way to network with your contemporaries and share your own work and ideas. You might be supported, you might be criticised, but either way you’ll leave more insightful than you were before.
If you can find out who is attending the conference, you can focus your efforts on trying to either meet specific people, or at least get your work in front of them. You could even try and contact them before the event to arrange grabbing a quick coffee somewhere.
There’s always the risk this type of targeting could come across as creepy, though. If you’ve not had any response to your emails, don’t bombard a person with meeting requests. If someone is about to get up on stage and give a talk, don’t approach them whilst they’re preparing, and if you say hello and have a quick chat with an influential figure but then they excuse themselves and move on, don’t follow them around.
Mind your manners
We know that most professionals are lost without their phones, but don’t be rude – turn it off during conference sessions, or at the very least put in silent mode. If you do get a call during one of these sessions, wait until you’re out of the room before answering.
Even once you’re outside the session, your conversation could carry and your voice may still be heard in other rooms. Just bear that in mind, should you start insulting a speaker to a colleague on your mobile.
Then there’s the food and drink situation. The last thing you want to do is abuse the kindness of your host if they’d laid out a spread at a free event.
Stick to your share and don’t get greedy. Alternatively, if you’ve paid to enter the event and there’s free food and drink, then fill your boots. Just don’t make yourself sick – you’re a professional, after all, and you’re likely at the conference as a representative of your company.
All of the above
Yes, conferences are work events, but it’s inevitable that people make friends. The trick is to find the right balance between formal and informal, professional yet fun. Don’t mistake a conference to be a social gathering – that insults the organisers, and doesn’t bode well for you or your employer.
Target certain individuals, sure, but also remain open to meeting new people, and be courteous even if you don’t think there’s anything in it for you. Treat others as you wish to be treated.
Don’t exclude anyone either; networking is scary enough, but it’s especially nerve-wracking if you don’t have anyone at the conference with you. If you see someone is struggling to get involved in a conversation or is floating about on their own, invite them to join you. You never know who they are or where they might end up down the road.
There you have it. You’re now an expert in conference etiquette.