Surviving Conference Season

This week we are going back into the Brain-work archives to revisit tips on surviving and thriving during conference season. Happy spring everyone – let us know in the comments which conferences you are planning to attend this year and what your plans are to maximize your time and resources.


by Carolyn Doi
Education and Music Library, University of Saskatchewan
*originally posted May 3, 2016

It’s that time of year again: conference season. It seems like myself and all of my library colleagues are out there right now, presenting, networking, and gathering ideas to bring back to the workplace. That being said, not every conference experience is a positive one. Here are some of my tips and tricks for making it through your next conference like a pro!

1) Plan for success. Preview the conference schedule beforehand and prioritize the things you absolutely need to attend (committee meetings, chapter sessions, your own presentation (!), etc.) and then the ones you’d really like to see. Pick your scheduling method of choice. A colleague of mine prefers to highlight the heck out of the print schedule, while I’ve found that taking advantage of the conference apps such as Guidebook can be really handy.

Don’t forget to give yourself time to see some of the local sights as well! If there’s an afternoon you can get away from the conference or – even better – if you can book an extra day or two on either end of the conference, you’ll be happy you did. It can be really frustrating to travel across the country to only see the inside of a convention centre. Plus, exploring the city with your fellow conference attendees is a great networking activity.

2) Surf the backchannel. Find the conference hashtag and tap into real-time Twitter/Facebook/Instagram conversations to find out what folks are saying about everything from the conference sessions, venue, and the best place to grab a quick bite to eat. It can be a great way to feel engaged and connected. Just remember, if you’ve got something negative to say on Twitter, be sure you’re ready to have the same conversation in person at the coffee break.

When I’m presenting, I find Twitter provides a quick and easy way to see how my presentation went over with the audience and gives me an opportunity to answer questions or send out links following the allotted presentation time. It’s always good to include the presenter in the conversation as well with an @ mention and use the conference hashtag, so those following from afar can also tap into what’s going on. There’s a lot to consider about the merits, drawbacks, and etiquette of conference tweeting. Check out Ryan Cordell’s article and suggested tweeting principles for more ideas.

3) Making networking meaningful. Small talk can be intimidating, but it’s certainly not impossible. Fallon Bleich’s article Small Talk at Conferences: How to Survive It offers some good tips.

As much as it can be tempting to talk to the people you already know, try to also work in some conversations with people you’ve never met, or someone you’ve always wanted to chat with. When in doubt, ask them what they’re working on at the moment. You might learn something new or even find someone new to collaborate with! I’ve had some great collaborative research projects come out of a simple conversation at a conference reception.

4) Presenting like a Pro. So much has already been written about how to give a good presentation. But as a rule of thumb, whether you’re using PowerPoint, Prezi, Google Slides, or Reveal, make sure your presentation slides aren’t more interesting than you are as a speaker. Selinda Berg discussed this in a previous C-EBLIP blog post where she argued for “PowerPoint as a companion…not as a standalone document to be read.” I couldn’t agree more. At the end of the day, you don’t want to be outdone by your own conference slides!

5) Mindful reflection. Take time before the conference to set an intention for your experience there. Is there a particular problem you want to solve, certain people you need to have a face-to-face conversation with or vendors that you need to approach? Conferences can go by quickly. Make sure you’ve identified your goals in advance so they become a priority while you’re there. I like to use a free note taking system such as Evernote to write everything down. Once I get home, I reread my notes and reflect on my experience. How can I apply what I learned in my own practice or research? Who do I need to follow up with?

Everyone has their own approach to traveling, presenting, and networking at professional events. These are some of the things that have worked for me and helped to make the whole experience more beneficial and enjoyable overall. Whatever your approach, I encourage you to sit back and enjoy the ride. Happy conference season, everyone!


This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

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