How to Survive a Work Trip
Whether you’re new into your career or a seasoned pro, attending a conference is a great way to brush up on your industry education. The experience takes you out of your typical day-to-day and lets you explore your respective industry at-large, allowing you to get in-depth knowledge on the latest and greatest tools, strategies and professional development techniques. All this newfound knowledge gives you a leg up in your career and, as a bonus point, looks great on your resume. Just as important as the information you’ll acquire is the people you’ll meet. Think of conferences as networking on steroids—a nonstop escapade of new faces, new conversations and new connections to foster long after the two- to three-day event is long gone.
As useful as conferences are, they can be twice as nerve-racking and energy-draining. Getting the most out of a conference takes planning, and if you take the time to do so, you’ll find that the nerves are worth the rewards. Having been to my fair share of conferences, trade shows and professional development seminars, I’ve gathered some simple (but useful!) tips for making the most out of a conference. Whether it’s your first conference or your tenth, a little planning goes a long way.
Before the trip
As you’re gearing up for the event, it’s important to keep four things in mind: health, hustle, research and proper packing. I’ve made it a personal rule before any trip (but, in particular, work trips) to take good care of my body and mind. Before the conference, make sure you’re eating right, sleeping well and getting some sort of physical and mental exercise (whatever that looks like for you). Attending a conference means you’re likely traveling by car or plane, and you’re definitely exchanging handshakes and sharing close quarters with a large number of people. Germs, germs, germs. Taking care of yourself will ensure you’re, at the very least, physically feeling well.
If possible, try to check off your list of to-dos, especially upcoming deadlines, before clocking out. You’ll be taking in a lot of new information at the conference, and it’ll be a lot easier to concentrate and properly focus on the newfound data if you’re not worried about the email that you need to send or proposal you need to submit. If this isn’t feasible for all your tasks, coordinate with your manager and/or appropriate coworker to handle the items that might come up while you’re away.
After you’ve made a plan to handle your work-related responsibilities, take some time to create your personal schedule for the conference. You don’t have to stick with it, but giving yourself a starting outline will help tremendously as you navigate the large sea of speakers, breakout sessions and vendors. Create an agenda of speakers you want to see, attendees you want to meet and any key items you want to learn or questions you want to ask. If you’re comfortable doing so, setting up coffee, lunch or dinner dates ahead of time can help you secure those invaluable one-on-one meetings.
Last but not least, properly pack. It’s so easy to overpack, especially when you’re going to a new place with new people, but (for your sake), try your best not to. Plan your key outfits, bring a couple of extra add-on items and always, always plan for the weather (A handheld steamer is an easy way to keep all of your clothes wrinkle-free, regardless of the humidity). Typical conferences are business casual, but make sure to check the website and/or ask fellow conference-goers about the dress code. Don’t forget to pack plenty of business cards, a notebook and pens. It also helps to pack a couple of comfort items. For me, this means my personal pillow, a good book and a candle. Being away from home can sometimes make me feel out of place, so having a few items that remind me of home help in the midst of all the hustle and bustle.
During the trip
Once you’ve arrived to your hotel, unpack your suitcase and get your room comfortable and ready for the remainder of the trip. Doing so early will rid you of any early-morning rush-searching for items or ironing wrinkled shirts. Once you’re all settled in, go out and explore. Most conferences start with a welcoming reception, which is the perfect time to scope out the space and connect with attendees. Try to remember that for the most part, everyone else is just as nervous as you are when it comes to meeting new people. Don’t be afraid to make the first move. More often than not, the other person is receptive, excited and borderline relieved to have someone to talk to.
The amount of sessions offered at conferences can be overwhelming, but it’s also a huge bonus because it allows you to explore all kinds of topics. To help with the information overload, take notes. I can’t stress this enough; channel your inner student and write things down. The information you’re gaining can quickly fade if not documented. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. (In fact, this can be one of the best ways to connect with the speakers and build a relationship post-presentation.)
Networking is a large part of conferences. You should get your fair share of it and you should certainly take advantage of the coffee breaks, happy hours and breakout socials, because it’s in these moments you can connect with others on topics other than business.
Just as important as networking is taking care of yourself. Don’t be afraid to take a break. It’s OK to use some of your free time to make a short and sweet visit to your hotel room for some R&R. There’s absolutely no shame in stepping out for a breather or a walk around the city. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of a conference, but amidst all of the learning and networking, carve out some time to explore the neighborhood you’re in. Explore the local sights and eats.
After the trip
During a conference is where you foster relationships, and after a conference is where you maintain them. Once you return, you’ll inevitably need to catch up on emails, deadlines and errands, but don’t let this deter you for too long. A good rule of thumb for follow-ups and thank-you notes is one week after the event. If possible, write a written card (versus digital). Taking the time to hand-write a thank-you card is not a lost art; it shows a level of genuine care that the digital world often lacks. If there were future meetings talked about, follow up. Send the emails and LinkedIn requests and make the phone calls—don’t let your day-to-day tasks drown out the post-conference energy.
A great way to refresh yourself on all you learned (and prove to your employer you actually paid attention) is to create a presentation. Whether that’s on PowerPoint, Google Slides, an informative video or a simple Word document, gathering all your notes and putting them in one cohesive presentation is a great way to keep the momentum of the conference going. This can also be a reference point for your next career move(s). Conferences can often open your eyes to new professional development classes, licenses and certificates, webinars, etc. Creating a presentation and reliving the experience will help remind you of those items and can serve as a guide to your next steps.
Conferences are great career-building tools—but they’re also an avenue for personal development. Remaining a forever student and constantly seeking out experiences that will expand your knowledge and network are invaluable assets in your tool belt. There’s no shortage of conferences out there. Take your pick, plan ahead—and remember to have some fun along the way.
Originally from Tirana, Albania, Ina graduated from the University of North Florida with a B.S. in Communications. She assists BWH with client pitching, content creation, merchandise fulfillment and all-things administrative. She's a lover of adventure, a good meal, the great outdoors, and hammock hangs with her dog, Diesel.