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We’ve just returned from a week at a conference and it has inspired us to share the entertaining and important learnings we have experienced at conferences…
Travelling to a conference
You need to be comfortable and arrive refreshed and ready to engage. Crumple free clothing is a must, especially if you run into a big potato as soon as you get off the plane. Similarly, matching your suitcase to travel clothes can make for less confusion at the luggage carousel. Wear comfortable shoes. There can be a lot of walking involved both outside and inside some enormous conference centres.
Depending on your discipline, the scale of a conference can be enormous. Fortunately lanyards and name tags have alleviated the name-forgetting-distress; however there are still times when you may need to use word association to recall who that important person was. Some of our top picks: puzzle girl, crazy suit guy, beetroot woman. On the topic of name tags though, this can be a cause of its own distress – signing in should be simple but some people have a double barrelled name conundrum, am I in the A-E or M-Z line?
You will meet all sorts of people at conferences. Some people love a conference, get super-pumped about catching up with old friends and making new ones; some people like to observe and see what’s happening in their field; some are a mixture… Thanks to Brittany Leaning (@bleaning) for this insightful blog on the 12 types of people you’ll meet at a Conference: http://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/types-of-people-at-conferences
Networking is daunting but necessary and the sooner a conference delegate can get over the initial anxiety the sooner they will engage. The more relaxed you feel, the better conversations to be had with current and potential future peers. Professional associations are often a place to start – AGMs are sometimes scheduled around conferences so get along and get involved. Make the most of the coffee/cake/sandwich line to start a conversation with the people around you. Mentoring or buddy programmes at conferences can also assist. Attend the conference dinner – there is no better place to network than on the D-floor! Take pictures on the dance floor – you’ll need to remind yourself that to become a senior academic you’ll have to out dance the Profs. We recently saw a lot of bonding occur over a three kilo block of chocolate with a chisel and a hammer. Who knew?
Conference Truths sourced from : https://brainthatwouldntdie.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/surviving-academic-conferences-without-crying/
Strategically identify who you might want to talk to in your field at the conference. It might be someone you’ve referenced continuously, or someone you’d really like to work with in the future. Make a list, aim high, write a few dot points about what you might like to discuss with them and then put yourself in the networking and social spaces for this interaction to happen. When you do meet someone, exchange business cards (note to self: must pack business cards), and write a couple of notes about the topic and actions you talked to someone about on the back of their card. Make sure you follow up post-conference with a casual friendly email e.g., ‘it was great to meet you last week…’
Presenting at a conference
In our previous lives as undergraduates and PhD candidates we despised and avoided public speaking at all costs. And it cost us… this was an incredible barrier to growing our research profiles and potential career progression. We have endeavoured to work on this (it’s still a work in progress) but these days we participate and sign up. We feel the fear and do it anyway. Because as researchers one of our most important roles is to translate research, make it accessible and continue to improve on our practice as researchers. Presenting to peers, policy makers, and consumers makes us think about how best to explain our work and make the material relevant to different audiences. The pressure is a privilege. Prepare adequately. Speak calmly, slowly and confidently. Fake it till you make it. And make the most of the adrenalin rush that happens the minute you walk away from the lectern!
Out of your comfort zone sourced from: https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/2012/05/feel-the-fear-and-do-it-anyway1/
Social media at conferences is increasing. Representing organisations, associations and individuals can make for fragmented tweeting. It’s vital to remember – which twitter account am I today? It’s a good idea to consider developing a social media strategy prior to attending a conference. Some general rules of thumb include saving twitter drafts (posts that might be considered too controversial, particularly if you’re tweeting on behalf of an organisation), thanking followers, and etiquette. With so much content coming in you might get a case of tweeter-block. Do not panic! Breathe and just enjoy the presentation.
There are some other really important parts to conferences:
• Conferences are a marathon not a sprint so there are some side effects of this delirium. You might start dreaming about the conference – don’t be alarmed, this will pass. Just try not to interpret these too literally.
• Don’t try to get to every session, workshop, meeting, breakfast, and dinner. This is the joy of social media – you can get a taste of the key messages from different sessions and prevent yourself from burning out.
• Select your exhibition booth goodies carefully – the coffee mug is a great idea until it ends up smashed in your suitcase. On that, don’t worry about perfecting the sneaky steal of booth freebies – the booth delegates don’t want to pack up all their merchandise and take it back to the office, they would prefer that you take it with you so go in brazenly!
• There’s a lot of staring at screens, a lot of eating rich foods and a lot of brain power required at conferences. Make sure you pack the Rescue Remedy, B-B-Berocca and of course some Panadol. Where possible, try to resist the salted caramel tarts until the last day and make sure you always eat something green (m&ms do count).
Rescue Remedy (http://www.bachflower.com/rescue-remedy-information/) and Berocca (http://www.berocca.com.au/products/)
• Do something fun either side of the conference. Reward yourself for all that hard work. Some ideas we have tried and recommend – visiting Wet ‘n’ Wild on the Gold Coast, Sydney we had a day walking around the markets and various landmarks, cycling on the NSW North Coast, bungee jumping in Cairns.
Waterslide image sourced from: http://overseasattractions.com/pacific/australia/gold-coast/wetnwild-water-world/
Minjin swing image sourced from: http://1770travelbugs.com/product/aj-hackett-cairns-minjin-swing-14000ft-skydive/
The key is to think about why you’re attending a conference – what are your expectations, what are you hoping to achieve, who do you want to meet, and what do you want to find out? Conferences can be fantastic sources of inspiration, crowds of people who share your passion, wanting to work together and exchange ideas to progress the field. Make the most of the opportunity and have fun!