Conferences can be grueling! Two or more days of networking, showcasing your work (which feels like selling a part of you if you’re self employed), sitting in potentially uncomfortable chairs, and hoping the conference can accommodate your dietary restrictions… can feel like a lot.

It’s only the first week of September, and I have attended seven conferences in 2019 with three more + the fall Ticco retreat on my calendar! As a regular conference attendee and frequent speaker, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks to being conference ready.

1. Pack clothes you feel confident in.
There is a big difference between wearing something that you look nice in and something you feel confident in! Every conference has a different vibe, which can impact what type of attire you should pack (casual vs business). If this is your first time attending a specific conference, ask the internet to help you pack (use the conference hashtag on Twitter, ask in a professional group on Facebook, DM someone on Ticco)! You may learn that the conference venue runs cold or that people bring multiple outfits and change depending on the event. Once you have narrowed down the type of vibe you are going for, look through your closet and determine what you feel most confident in. If you feel better in a jean jacket instead of a blazer, rock it! Confidence is also tied to comfort. Pack shoes that you can walk around in. No, seriously - conferences inevitably lead to a lot of walking as you explore the city with new/ old friends.

2. It’s 2019, dietary restrictions are real.
People are becoming more in tune with their allergens or are selecting diets that they ethically align with. Nothing is worse than going to a conference and not knowing if you’ll be able to eat the lunch that is included or the appetizers at the evening event… you get the idea. If the conference registration does not ask about dietary restrictions, you should email the conference point of contact on the website and clearly explain your dietary restrictions. Most event planners will accommodate your restrictions, but just to be safe research local dining options and have back-up plans ready to go.

Organizer Tip: If you are an event organizer, please consider having all food labeled (ex: contains nuts) and having ingredient sheets readily available for caterers and/or staff to refer to if asked about food. 

3. Schedule “me time” throughout the conference.
Maybe this is waking up and stretching before the day starts, budgeting an hour alone before the evening networking mixer to watch some mindless tv, or skipping a session to visit the local letterpress, whatever it is make sure to take some time for yourself. Chances are you are not a 24*7 energizer extrovert robot (or are you…), so be okay with recharging. If you are feeling drained it will come across in your interactions.

4. Are you presenting?
Sick of the awkward silence that occurs before the presentation starts? I have started adopting the practice of playing music before I present. Instead of sitting as people trickle into the room, I have upbeat music playing to make the room feel a bit more casual and relaxed.*

While you present, stand with your legs shoulder width apart, speak into the microphone, and don't feel tied to the podium (unless you like the podium). This is your presentation and your opportunity to represent your work however you see fit. You worked hard to be standing there. Be proud of your work and showcase it well through visuals, limited text, and a confident stance/good verbal communication.

*If you use this suggestion, please tell me what songs are on your playlist! A few of mine are: 

  • Brenton Wood “The Oogum Boogum Song”
  • Chromatics “I’m On Fire”
  • Talking Heads “This Must Be The Place” 

5. It may seem like a no brainer, but do not forget your business cards!
Have plenty of business cards that clearly communicate how to stay in touch. I’d also encourage you to take some time to make sure your website and your social media is also up to date. Have you posted a new blog post recently? Is your bio and resume looking the way you want? People are most likely to look you up during or after a conference, so let’s make sure you are looking your best self on the internet in addition to in person.

What else can make your conference experience less stressful?

  • Bring an external battery. It is not always convenient to charge your phone at the conference venue and you do not want your phone dying while you are exploring.
  • Reusable water bottle. Hydrate! Treat yourself like a plant and give yourself water and sunshine throughout the conference.
  • Reusable thermos. It’s a heck of a lot easier to refill your thermos with tea or coffee throughout the week than searching for and throwing away those disposable cups.

You went to the conference and you made a lot of connections, great! What’s next?!?! Budget time the week after the conference to email your new friends, connect with them on the proper social media channels, and add them to your newsletter. Relationships should extend beyond a conference. Let’s make sure you are building meaningful connections through thoughtful follow-up.

Looking for more conference tips? Check out my blog post on Buying Down Conference Costs.


Sarah Marsom is a Heritage Resource Consultant based in Columbus, Ohio. Beyond her consulting work, Sarah is the creator of the Tiny Activist project, and sews Jane Jacobs dolls which contribute proceeds to scholarships for emerging professionals. Additionally, Sarah is a founding member of the Rust Belt Coalition of Young Preservationists. She is currently a Ticco Ambassador and Advisor for Ticco's upcoming "Place Shapers - Detroit" Retreat!