How To Survive Your First Professional Conference

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Crowded exhibit hall floor full of people.

Who wouldn’t find this just a bit overwhelming?

Recently, 3,000 of the most creative, passionate, adventure-loving people I’ve ever encountered and I took over Portland, Ore. for Chris Guillebeau’s World Domination Summit. It was my first ever conference.

And while it was amazing, it was also sometimes totally overwhelming.


At some point in your career, you will probably attend a conference—for yourself or a company you work for. That means you’ll probably have to travel, practice elevator pitches, and put your networking skills to the test.

The good news is that a lot of conferences are way more fun than that; the bad news is that they also offer way too much to do in a very short amount of time. Below you’ll find some of my insights on how to survive your first conference (and every conference thereafter).

Figure Out Why You’re Actually Going

Are you going for your own business or for a company you work for? What is the actual purpose of this conference? Why are you going to this particular conference? What do you hope to get out of it?

Answering these questions will help you get clear on whom to talk to, which workshops to see, and which events to attend.

(PS: Keep in mind that there are a ton of events that may not be officially associated with the conference but are put on by attendees. These are usually some of the best places to network!)

Figure Out Whom You Want to Meet

I had two lists filled with people I wanted to meet: colleagues I had never met in person and new connections within my niche. Having these people in mind allowed me to figure out what events I absolutely had to attend versus those that would be nice to attend.

As a result, I met the organizers of another conference I will be attending, many new friends and colleagues, and some editors—I also made tons of new connections that will help me propel my business (and my life) forward.

Follow On Social Media

Thanks to social media, you can meet attendees, interact with organizers, and figure out accommodations before the actual conference. Take advantage of this! It will help a great deal once you arrive to know whom you’re meeting, how to get to your hotel from the airport, and where to find food in the middle of the night.

Don’t underestimate the power of Facebook groups and Twitter lists.

Remember To Recharge

I didn’t sleep pretty much the entire time I was in Portland. Not well, anyway. At one point, I was getting sick and literally scheduled a nap for myself to recharge. If you can cut out some time to rest, do it. For some reason, conferences (especially really big ones in cool cities) are not conducive to sleeping.

Conferences can be a lot of fun if you don’t let them overwhelm you. By planning ahead and actually resting, you can ensure you’ll have a good time while still getting the job done.

Have a tip for surviving a professional conference? Let us know below!

(Photo: ALA The American Library)

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