An Awkward Girl’s Guide to Attending a Professional Conference

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It’s been almost a year since I’ve been blogging here on An Awkward Girl’s Guide. I’ve found that it’s very difficult to produce content all day for work and then come home and do more. What a writer’s dilemma.

I just came back from Content Marketing World, and I’ve been feeling incredibly inspired.

When anything is your job and your passion, it’s easy to get a little cynical and burnt out. Good professional enrichment is essential, and a professional conference is one great way to get on fire for your work again!

As an awkward girl, a professional conference also come with stresses. I hadn’t been to a professional conference since becoming a real-deal professional, so there were some things that worried my awkward little heart. I have some ideas of how to overcome your fears and have a wonderfully productive professional conference experience.

Set Goals for the Conference

When you’re looking through the schedule before you leave, set yourself some goals for the conference. Are you looking to network, or wanting to focus on learning? Is there a resource or provider information you want to come home with? Are you going alone or with some collegues?

All these factors will affect how you proceed with your time at a professional conference. If you’re hoping to network, you’ll be sure to be at those events, but if learning is your main goal, you’ll prioritize the educational sessions. I found in order to get a good seat in a session, I didn’t have much time for the networking breaks. Since I was attending with my bosses and networking wasn’t my goal, that was ok! You can’t possibly do everything at a busy professional conference like Content Marketing World, but having goals made my decisions easy.

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Plan a couple of things at a professional conference that are a little out of your comfort zone. One of my favorite sessions was one that I attended just because I thought it was a good “business choice.” After all that, a session about Return on Investment (which is typically a very math-heavy subject) ended up being wildly helpful and inspirational. I never would have guessed.

In the same line, any time I struck up a conversation with people around me, I was pretty nervous. My awkwardness is not always conducive to small talk. I didn’t ignore my introverted personality entirely at Content Marketing World, but I did find getting out of my comfort zone a little bit improved the experience.

Don’t Ignore a Refresher Session

As a professional writer, I tried not to take too many sessions that were just about the craft of writing. I didn’t want to sit in a lot of sessions where I knew all the concepts already. However, the writing sessions I did attend were incredibly instructional. I took a class about using journalism skills in content, even though I went to school for journalism, and I still found new concepts and ideas I hadn’t thought of before.

I would have missed out on some great learnings if I’d avoided all the sessions that seemed like they were about things I should already know. Not only that, but hearing fellow writers talk about how their careers have progressed and what drives them was incredibly inspiring. I left the conference itching to write and it had been a long time since I’d felt that sort of itch.

2018-09-07_23-55-35_000Gamify the Experience

When you’re nervous, making a professional conference into a game takes some of the pressure off. If you need to make up a point system, do it! There’s plenty of research that gamifying work helps you get it done. If the expo hall makes you nervous, try to get as much swag as possible by talking to and learning about providers.

For me, I gamified getting from session to session because I was nervous about being last in line or entering late. Strategizing my timing helped keep me confident and I always beat the majority of the lunch line (food is a powerful motivator, my friends).

Take Notes

Taking notes helps me feel professional and helps keep me focused. When you’re waking up early and rushing around, it’s easy to feel tired and distracted, especially towards the end of the day. Taking notes helps focus your brain. I find an old school notebook the best for that but plenty of people were typing. I find a computer or my phone just another avenue for distractions.

In the case of Content Marketing World, we had access to presentations after the fact, but I still liked to take my own notes. I also found it helpful to keep an idea list, because I was coming up with tangential ideas throughout the whole event that I’m excited to bring to the office next week.

2018-09-07_23-56-11_000.pngLeave Some Recovery Time in Your Schedule

Running yourself ragged at a professional conference will probably counteract all the learning and inspiration you’re experiencing, especially if you’re an awkward introvert like me. For me, having a quiet breakfast and dinner counteracted a day of running around. I also avoided some of the evening fun activities because resting and taking my introvert time was essential.

If you need some time during the day, you can always find a quiet corner or skip a session block that you find less interesting. Give yourself the time you need to keep the experience productive. This is extra important if you have to go straight from a conference back into a work day.

 

An Awkward Girl’s Guide to Attending a Professional Conference