Updated: Mar 12
Are you trying to figure out how to navigate an increasingly competitive academic space and workforce? Well, one of the ways that you can do that is by attending industry or discipline-specific conferences. If you are unsure about conferences, what they are, the purpose they serve, and what you should do to prepare; then you are in the right place. Here, I'll talk about in detail, what conferences are and what key elements you should be looking for as you search for conferences to attend. I'll talk about the purpose of a conference, so you have a clear understanding of what your mission and goal should be while in attendance. Lastly, I'll talk about how you want to prepare for the conference experience. I'll talk about how you want to schedule your time, how to target conference events/sessions you want to attend, and some of the basics for marketing and branding yourself as you make your way around to different conference events, as well as the city.
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WHAT IS A CONFERENCE
A conference is a place where professionals, as well as high achievers from across the country and sometimes the world, come together to talk about the latest changes happening within your field or industry. Also, discussed are changes that need to occur to stay up to speed with the ways in which the world is changing as it relates to varying generations (i.e., #genz, different social issues (i.e., #blacklivesmatter), As well as public health concerns and how those effect various industries, business practices, and organizations within your area (i.e., #coronavirus pandemic). A conference is also a place where people engage in meaningful conversations about their work, as well as personal life goals and endeavors. Therefore, you will want to understand what the purpose of a conference is in what you need to think about as you prepare your conference strategy for attendance.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF A CONFERENCE
There are various reasons one might attend a conference, and there can be more than one purpose for attending a conference. Some of the key reasons you want to think about is networking in connecting with those in your specific discipline or industry. So, while scholarship, best practices, and new discovery, are some of the main reasons one would attend a conference, networking is also at the top of the list. As many have heard me talk about in several of my YouTube episodes concerning career advancement as an undergraduate student, graduate student, or young professional; networking is the key and should be your sole purpose when going to conferences or attending any other event for that matter. Networking is not simply about getting a job or a leg up for a career opportunity, but it's also a way, and the way to grow as a student (of life/school/career) and fosters self-discovery and new ideas. Everything in life revolves around working with others to figure out and accomplish common goals for the overall good of others and society as a whole. This is why you'll want to understand how to "work the room", navigate different conference sessions and events, and how you should prepare a strategy for the conference experience and attendance.
HOW SHOULD YOU PREPARE A STRATEGY FOR THE CONFERENCE EXPERIENCE AND ATTENDANCE
A common error I see undergraduate students, graduate students, and young professionals make is failing to create a strategy and navigation plan, or “map” for conference attendance and events.
I am currently in Seattle, WA attending the NCA 2021 conference for communication studies. The conference guide/booklet is 300 pages long with too many events, to count, but also with so many fruitful and meaty topics and areas that are ripe for discussion. So, if I am going into this conference without a plan for what events to attend, that can quickly become overwhelming and paralyzing when considering the sheer number of events, I have to choose from over the five-day period. Instead, what you want to do is think about your areas of expertise, your niche, areas in which you want to grow, and also an area you have absolutely zero knowledge about, but that piques your interest. You want to write those down, ensure that you find an event in each area, and the times do not overlap with other things that you have on your planner or calendar. I personally use an assistant to help me plan out my travel to make this process a little bit easier. If you do not have an assistant, this is something that you can easily do on your own in 30 minutes. After you're clear about what your goals are for attending the conference and how you plan to “work the room”, it might be helpful to write down a few key individuals/professionals you want to speak with to connect for future collaboration or potential career or job opportunities. As my friend and 2L Law student, Ryan Jay McElhose says, “key connections and networking take place after five”, so you may even want to plan a dinner with those you meet.
Often, students and professionals are intimidated by conferences because of what they don't know, meaning lacking understanding about what a conference is, how to plan for a conference, and if you should have a strategy. Spending some time upfront, planning, can create a world of difference and truly set you apart from others, while also bringing you together with others for work and future collaboration.
PRO TIP: ALWAYS WORK TOWARDS BRANDING AND PROMOTING YOURSELF
One pro tip that I'll leave you with is branding is important. Having an online presence is important. If you merge those two, this could significantly increase and help you maximize your efforts when attending conferences. When attending conferences one unique strategy you might consider using for personal branding and networking may include; engraving your website URL, business name, or social media handles on items such as mask or other similarly/easily visual items you might carry around with you at conferences.
Karis K. Wilson
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