The word ’conference’ can often strike fear in even the most tenacious of us, particularly if you’ve been tasked to attend the ‘conference’ alone.
The thought of attending a conference and networking with a room full of strangers can be a hair-raising prospect and can trigger a plethora of negative responses such as obligation, anxiety, loneliness, and the dread of travel fatigue.
Yes, conferences can be overwhelming and exhausting, but they can also be inspirational and fun (yes, you read correctly!) Remember YOU were chosen out of all of your colleagues to attend. You get to travel to a new place and stay in a nice hotel. You get the chance to meet lots of other interesting people in your industry, so the experience should be an enjoyable one.
Here's our 5 top tips to making attending a conference solo a less scary proposition and ensure that you have a scream!
1. Set out to enjoy the experience
If you’ve already told yourself you’re going to hate every minute of something, then the likelihood is that you actually will. Rather than diving in with a predetermined view of the event, take a moment to reset the way you’re thinking. Decide what you would like to experience and take away from the event, and ensure you achieve it.
Studies have also shown that having a positive attitude makes your view of life seem exciting and full of possibilities. You never know what you’re going to experience and learn, and who you’re going to meet who can open up exciting new opportunities for you.
Interact with the event, visit interesting stands and actually ask some questions. Enjoy the process of the experiences and get excited. Set out to enjoy the full day, take the full lunch hour, try some of the local cuisine, explore the city and embrace the fact that you’re doing something out of the ordinary away from the office.
2. Be equipped
Make a list of all the technology and accessories you need to stay fully charged and accessible throughout the day. Leaving a device or charger at home can create unnecessary worries that can distract you from the positive aspects of the event. Having your laptop, mobile and a charger to hand and readily accessible when you’re feeling out on a limb or awkward can provide you with a useful safety blanket to take some time out. Interacting digitally is also the perfect way to get involved in the event in a less daunting way rather than face to face.
But, be careful not to over-rely on your devices as you could be missing out on all the experiences and networking opportunities that are happening around you.
3. Dress for yourself
Feeling comfortable, happy and relaxed in what you’re wearing is a serious confidence booster. If there’s no strict dress code, skip the boring black suit, and wear something that makes you feel great. You’re going to be wearing it all day and perhaps travelling and sitting for hours, so you need to feel comfortable and make meeting new people easier.
Attending an event can be exhausting and wearing comfortable shoes is particularly important because you may have to stand and walk a lot during the day, especially if there are drinks receptions or networking sessions scheduled after the event. Bring a change of clothing so you feel refreshed and take some deodorant, wet wipes and toothpaste so you have the reassurance that you can freshen up throughout the day.
Most importantly wear a smile. According to many experts, smiling may not only be an outward manifestation of a happy feeling. It may actually be able to cause a happy feeling.
4. Seek out other solo attendees
Remember, you're not actually alone. There’s nothing wrong with feeling nervous and overwhelmed in a room full of strangers, it’s a very natural response, give yourself a break. You can be certain that a high percentage of the attendees are going to be feeling exactly the same as you. Most people experience social anxiety in new unfamiliar experiences and will be eager to find some reassurance from other attendees.
Set yourself a realistic target to talk to 10 people and come equipped with answers to questions that people will be asking? For example, what’s the Wifi code. Ques are a great place to get talking to people looking for ways to occupy themselves and share their experiences maybe with a conversation with a fellow attendee, so what are you waiting for? Get queuing.
5. Take time out if you need to
It’s not rude to give yourself some space in between seminars and networking occasions, give yourself some time to step away from the event. Get away from the crowd, go and drink a coffee, go for a walk around the city or just sit. These little moments will help you recharge your batteries and you’ll be able to prepare yourself for the next round of interactions and activities and congratulate yourself for getting this far through the day. And remember if you’re really not enjoying an activity you can always leave.
Don’t forget to allow time for a little self-care and pampering as a reward for all your hard work during the day. Whether that be listening to your favourite podcast in the train home or enjoying a tall Gin and Tonic at the after party.