Granted, I’d vacationed. Granted, I’d gone to meet new clients. However, I had not been to a conference since 2019. In a way, last week’s journey to Crypto Bahamas felt like a journey back to the future: the technology and new economic frontiers we discussed were utterly cutting-edge, but the very notion of flying into a conference felt like pre-pandemic bliss. (It didn’t hurt that it was in the Bahamas!)
It was also a trip back to the future in another way: the conference afforded a rare chance to see the lliberal lions of the 1990s mixing freely with the libertarian wunderkids of tomorrow. As Forbes intimated in a recent article, an “off-the-record but partly leaked” keynote closing session featured both former U.S. president Bill Clinton and former British PM, Tony Blair, who “noted he was feeling ‘a little overdressed’ sitting next to Bankman-Fried, who was moderating the panel in his standard attire—FTX-branded t-shirt, grey shorts, and New Balances.” This was a conference where you could see Steve Aoki and One Direction in the same room as…me. And I have the pictures to prove it!
It was a delight to meet so many peers I’d only known through Zoom and social media platforms for the last two years. (It was also—as always—a delight to see Tony Blair: I got my start in communications working for Alastair Campell when Tony Blair was Prime Minister.) Many times, it felt like meeting old friends, even though we had never actually seen one another in the flesh. Being so social with so many people at once felt, at times, surreal. And, as the Caribbean climate made outdoor gathering easy to facilitate, I must admit it was a shock to remember what a group of unmasked faces looked like.
I hate to admit it, but…I was rusty. After all, I’d been cooped up at home for two years! While I never stopped branching out and growing my PR practice remotely, I had forgotten what so much in-person networking felt like—frankly, how exhausting it can be. A key to working any conference successfully is placing your energy where it will serve you best and not spreading yourself too thin. Here are few helpful pointer I’ve always counted on when I’m feeling slightly overwhelmed at the prospect of a hectic conference:
- Pace yourself: No one can be in two places at once. Especially if you are attending an event that takes place in multiple parts of a city, make sure you account for travel times between destinations and learn the map of where you are going. Also, you know your own body better than anyone else: make sure that if you, for example, cannot sleep on a plane, that you schedule in time for a nap when you arrive. It’s easy to forget that the point of any conference is to come together with many people at once, many of whom you would never otherwise meet. Do what you need to do to show up punctually and refreshed.
- Prioritize: What are the cannot-miss events of your conference? Maybe it’s not the flashy keynote that everyone will go to. Maybe it’s something smaller where you will be able to shine with your own niche. Carefully go through programming to make sure you arrive where your presence will be the most impactful—and where you will learn the most, as well as meet with the most relevant people in your industry.
- Don’t flee the scene: Now that you know where your presence will be best appreciated, make time in your schedule to linger after. I have often made my strongest connections not at events themselves, but simply putting myself in the vicinity of the socializing that happens afterward, when everyone is very much focused on talking shop. It’s a great place to shine and to either attract business or hone your skills by talking to your peers.
- Don’t keep it a secret: Share your attendance at various events on social media. Register publicly online, Use geotags. Make your presence known. Additionally, make sure to follow and tag anyone you meet when appropriate. And, once you have followed, follow up! Expand your network as you network.
- Bring cards: While this might seem either obvious or old-school depending on your age, I still find that even nearly a quarter of the way in the 21st century having a physical business card is an advantage. And, when I get them from others, I simply take a picture and input the information into my phone later.
- Don’t put baby in the corner: Killing time between meetings or talks? Need to answer some emails? Multi-task and set up someplace highly visible, like the hotel lobby where everyone is staying. You never know who might walk by and what conversations you will have as a result! Don’t stay cooped up in your room!
- Be thoughtful about COVID: While, at times, in the Bahamas, my face felt naked without a mask, it’s important to remember the pandemic is not over. Just because someone is attending a conference doesn’t mean they might not be immunocompromised or otherwise vulnerable. It’s important to continue to keep one another safe, especially as we begin to gather again.