Be A Conference Guru

by Ambre Dawn Leffler
published in Community

Conference season is in full swing, and whether you are attending in person or virtually, conferences can be taxing on mind and body. But they don’t have to be. Here are things I’ve learned from attending conferences large and small that can help you become a conference guru too.

Before You Go:

Make A Wish-List of Sessions

Take a few minutes and list what you want to get out of the conference. Match sessions to your goals, keeping in mind the 80/20 rule. Choose topics that reflect where you are for 80 percent, and go for topics that are slightly ahead of where you are for the other 20. This way you won’t be overwhelmed with information you can’t use right away.

Then look at which sessions are recorded and which have a workshop component. Prioritize the ones with a workshop. 

Also make a list of backup options in case a session isn’t what you anticipated.

Research Dining Options

Break times are typically short so have an idea what your meal options are ahead of time. Research restaurants near the hotel, dining options at the hotel, and if the hotel offers boxed lunches during the conference.

Pack Like a Conference Guru

Here are items not typically on a packing list, but you’ll be glad to have with you:

  • Refillable water bottle
  • Snacks (energy bars/trail mix/fruit)
  • Instant coffee packets
  • Sweater or light jacket
  • Clothespin or hair clip
  • Moisturizes such as lotion and chapstick
  • Lavender spray

I’ll explain more about how these items come in later.

During the Conference:

Schedule Downtime

Your brain can only process so much in one day.

I have gone into conferences thinking in order to get my money’s worth I need to attend every single session. But only half the conference is presentations. A conference guru knows the other half is connections. Leaving room for a chance conversation with an agent over coffee, practicing your pitch at happy hour with other attendees, or striking up a new friendship in the chat is an equally valuable part of the experience.

Be Flexible

Not everything will go to plan, so pack some patience and flexibility. At the end of a conference in Pasadena, I was notified that the ride-share driver was in an accident and no one else would be dispatched. The valet asked if I’d like to share a cab with another person who had the same situation. It turned out to be one of the presenters. On the hour-long drive we compared notes. He gave me the skinny on other conferences and said this was the best. At the airport, he paid for my half of the fare. It was the most memorable moment of the conference.

Have Alternate Meal Plans

Strategize how and when you eat during the conference. I am a slow eater. Networking during a meal under a time limit is stressful for me. Connecting over coffee or cocktails is a better option so I seek out those opportunities. Another strategy is to eat smaller meals or graze throughout the day.

Be prepared for contingencies too. The conference resort had a full coffee bar and instant oatmeal cups the first day. They were closed the next two. People were scrambling to find coffee and breakfast. Keep an energy bar with you in case breakfast doesn’t work out, or for snacks throughout the day. 

Bonus Conference Guru Hack: Leave the trail mix in the room. Raisins and seeds tend to leap from your hand to the floor!. 

Take Your Sweater or Light Jacket With You to Sessions

The rooms are often chilly and the cold air blowing on bare arms affects your lung meridian. Your body closes up when cold. If you are feeling cold for prolonged periods of time, go outside for a few minutes to warm up. Or you can run your hands under warm water to reset your thermostat. 

Also, remember to breathe! We forget to take a breath when we are focusing on a presentation. 

Stay Hydrated

The constant air conditioning at a conference center dehydrates your body. When you are dehydrated your concentration drops and you feel fatigued. 

Remember that refillable water bottle you packed? Keep it filled and sip throughout the day. You will be more likely to drink water when it is with you than if you have to crab-walk across your row to get water during a session.

Get Outside

Spend some break time outdoors. Take a short walk or sit in the courtyard. If you are at a lengthy conference, go outside first thing in the morning and stay outside for 10 minutes. This helps your circadian rhythm adjust when you have been inside without access to daylight.

Take a Mini-Stretch Break

Stretching gets out the knots and boosts oxygen circulation. These stretches for wrists, shoulders, and back can be done sitting in your chair or back in your room in under 5 minutes:

  • Rotate wrists four times one direction, then four times the other direction
  • Wiggle your toes. Think of your toes as the roots of your tree and your brain as the crown. Wiggling your toes (roots) wakes up your brain (crown).
  • Roll your shoulders four times forward, then four times backward. Bounce your shoulders a few times.
  • In a chair, place your feet on the floor, hands on your knees. Arch your back like a cat, breathing in. Straighten your spine, breathing out. Repeat two more times.
  • In a chair, slowly walk your fingers down to your calves. Gently pull on your calves, stretching your lower back. Stay there for a few breaths, then slowly walk your fingers back up to your thighs. Straighten your spine one vertebrae at a time, then roll back your shoulders.

Unwind Before Sleep

Minimize screen time to cut down on the blue light that signals your brain it is daytime. Spray your pillow with lavender spray to soothe your nervous system. Fully close the curtains to keep out any light. If there is a gap, use a clothespin or hair clip to close the gap. 

After the Conference:

After you’ve made notes on action items and sent follow-up emails, it’s time to unwind. Taking in days’ worth of information and talking with crowds of people is taxing on the nerves, especially if you’re an introvert.

Take a Relaxing Bath 

Soaking in an Epsom salt bath will calm your nervous system. Use ¼ to ½ cup salts in a warm, not hot, bath and soak for 20 minutes. (Please consult the directions on the Epsom salt packaging for health advisories.) Add a few drops of lavender essential oil if you would like.

Eat Simply

For the next couple of days, eat simply. Your mind has taken in a lot so your digestive system will want a vacation. Go easy on heavy meals. Sometimes eating smaller meals more often helps, too.

Do Something Else While Processing

To process everything you’ve learned, go for a walk, sketch, or work on a jigsaw puzzle. This frees up your brain to sort information.

After you’ve relaxed and recharged, you will be ready to go!

Now you can be a conference guru too!

Ambre Dawn Leffler is a Tai Chi instructor, gardener, and weather geek who writes about vegetables, seasons, communing with nature, and the interconnections of mind/body. She loves trees and cherishes time in their presence. Learn more about her tree time, garden residents, and wellness practices at her website and seasonal inspiration from her newsletter.

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