Attending a conference is not something you have to do while you are in college, but some students decide that they want to. Here are some of their reasons:
- Job hunt
- Get inspired
- Get exposure to a professional field
- Learn new content
- Present on their own work
- Get off campus
If you are thinking of attending a conference or conference-like experience, here are some things you should think about and do first.
- Make sure you can articulate and defend your reasons for wanting to attend a conference. Don’t just go to go.
- Plan ahead. Many conferences have early bird deadlines for a highly reduced price, or they have a limited financial aid fund on a first-come, first served basis.
- Research options. Just because you’ve heard about one particular conference doesn’t mean that’s the only one of its kind. Google, ask people for recommendations, read industry newsletters, and check our conferences roundup.
- Choose a conference. Lots of factors will go into this decision, including price, location, timing, reputation, personal connections, and more. (A note on price: Costs vary dramatically among conferences. Just because one is more expensive does not necessarily mean it will be more impactful for you. Think about the potential return on investment, regardless of whether you’re spending your own money or spending your time to seek grants or gifts. Also, some conferences will offer free tickets in exchange for volunteering at the conference. It’s definitely worth asking.)
- Find out if you have any connections. Use clever Google or LinkedIn searches to discover people from your networks who are speaking at or attending the conference, or who did in the past. Do the same for organizers, hosts, and sponsors. A personal connection, even second or third degree, can open up all sorts of opportunities.
- Read all you can about the conference and the people presenting and attending. As the conference date approaches, map out what sessions you want to attend and which speakers or attendees you hope to meet.
- Consider getting a small batch of business cards for yourself. They can be simple – just your name, email address, personal website or LinkedIn URL, and a title such as “Student, Wesleyan University.” Even if you never do anything with the cards, the process of designing and ordering them will be a great learning experience.
- Practice your ‘conferencing’ skills. Attend something that simulates the experience such as a local professional meetup, a Wesleyan alumni networking reception, or a panel discussion at a local library. Shake some hands, meet some new people, and make some connections. This will make doing so at the conference itself much easier.
- Make your travel plans and have an itinerary that suits your budget and your schedule.
- If you are a speaker or presenter, prepare your materials well in advance of the conference and practice on real people to get their feedback.
- Do not be just a passive observer. It’s easy to just show up at a conference, listen to speakers, and sit alone during meals. It takes a little effort to mingle, meet people, and extract greater value from a conference, but it is certainly worth it.
- Seek out the people (or kinds of people) you want to meet. Between sessions, walk up and introduce yourself to them (or anyone!) and strike up conversation. This is a good skill to have, so use the conference as an excuse to practice it.
- Give away your business cards and ask for other people’s cards.
- Take notes. Jot down quotes, concepts, and other content that stands out to you. Put a small square next to any note that you want to follow up on later, then add a check mark in the box once you’ve completed that task.
- If you use Twitter, live tweet parts of the conference. The quotes and media you choose to share will amplify important content and provide another record of the points that were most salient to you.
- Be sure to follow up promptly with people you met. If there was a specific follow up task (e.g. you were supposed to send them a link to an article you two discussed), complete it within a few days. You do not need to reach out to everyone you met or everyone whose business card you got; choose the people you most enjoyed connecting with and with whom you might like to stay in touch.
- Write a short reflection about the experience. What did you learn? What would you do differently if you could repeat the experience? What were the best things about the conference? What didn’t work as well, and specifically how could those things have been improved? Would you recommend the conference to other students in the future, and if so, why or why not?
- If you received grants or gifts to attend the conference, report back on your experience to the people who funded it.
- Go back to your notes, complete any tasks, and save the notes somewhere that you’ll go back to to in the future.
Do you have tips you’d add to this list? Would you like to meet with an advisor who can help you think through your options and prepare to attend a conference? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org