It’s 10:24pm, you’re finishing up the laundry in the middle of the messy living room, struggling to multi-task to also pack for a conference the next day and keep the kids in bed. This is all considering that your flight the next morning is at 6am, and that you’ll have to jump out of bed by 3am to wash those tangled curls you’ve been hiding up in a bun for the past week. This is what I experienced on many occasions preparing for conferences, with limited time, money or energy. While I was excited to go, there were a gazillion things I had to attend to as a working mom on a strict financial, time and energy budget.
There’s something about dealing with constant chaos that teaches you a lot about getting the best out of the little you have at your disposal. Like leveraging whatever financial, time and resources money you’ve got to pull off decent, if not extraordinary results, out of chaotic circumstances.
Whether in your current field or a desired area of interest, it’s no secret that conferences can be instrumental to your career success. From opportunities to network with influential people, to the sheer amount of knowledge you may get, not to mention recharging and re-wiring your brain, there’s definitely a lot you can gain. There’s also quite a bit you should invest in terms of preparation to have a successful time.
However, it can be challenging to garner all the resources you need, whether in time, money or energy to pull off the “right” preparation. After all, who has time to get all their ducks in a row after getting out of work, packing hurriedly, getting the house and kids organized for the next few days, and fixing your ‘fro too?
If like me, you happen to be preparing for conferences with limited time, money and energy, here are a few unconventional, yet practical ways to make the best out of what you’ve got:
I always say everything starts with mindset! From wrapping your mind around the craziness that laundry is for a family of four (including adorable little toddlers with questionable hygiene), to gearing up for a conference that could spell incredible success for your career, life just gets busy! When aligning two thoughts in a row can be challenging, how do you mentally prepare for an upcoming conference when you still have to find clean underwear to pack?
There’s a trick that many professional athletes use before an important game. Close your eyes and visualize yourself having a successful, fun and positive time at this conference. You can do this in between loads of laundry, at the red light (please open your eyes as you drive off), or even during bathroom breaks at work (yes, I’m that woman who stays extra long in the bathroom stall). The more you visualize yourself acing this conference, the more likely you will!
You can also practice meditation and awareness when you start feeling overwhelmed. All you need is a couple of minutes to breathe in and out to calm yourself, and remind yourself that no matter what, you’ve got this!
Handle The Logistics!
There are a few essential logistical pieces to put together before any conference, that you should get out of the way pronto! These include:
- Researching the event: It’s important to know who is hosting the event as well as other events they may have previously hosted, and what they stand for. This will provide your with a general sense of what to expect and what you can bring to the table. Additionally, studying the conference schedule ahead of time and picking the sessions you’d like to attend can cut down on the time you need to acclimate at the conference. Lastly, take a look at the list of attendees and determine which ones you want to connect with. You can even contact them ahead of time to coordinate schedules.
- Plan for being out of office: Get work done ahead of time to lessen the impact of your absence at work. If you’re able to work in between conference sessions, plan for this ahead of time as well. Inform your team well ahead of time and start delegating responsibilities to be handled while you’re out of the office. Also let your clients know that you will either be unavailable or available on a limited basis. Oh, and don’t forget the out-of-office email and voicemail too!
- Get your promotional materials ready: No matter which conference you attend, make sure to have two things ready before you go: your business cards and your elevator pitch. If you don’t have them already, take time to prepare effective business cards (on a budget) with all yours and your business information. Reserve some time to write out an elevator pitch that succinctly but powerfully describes your brand and mission in 60 seconds.
My power tool when it comes to preparing for conferences and other important networking events is using lists. I love listing up what I need and have to do ahead of time, so even in the midst of my usual chaos, I have a reference to go back to.
At least two weeks before the conference, have a list handy for everything you need to do before leaving, including researching the event, setting up your out-of-office message, getting your business cards ready, rehearsing your elevator pitch, etc.
My favorite is a packing list. I don’t know about you, but I seem to have a knack for forgetting my toothbrush or spacing out on essentials like body lotion, chargers and lens solutions. No one wants to deal with that woman with the cute ‘fro at the conference who skipped her tooth-brushing session, could not see the screen because: dry lenses, and showed up ashier than the Sahara desert…Seriously!
If I don’t do anything else, at the very least I jot down a packing list on some random Post-It note. It’s saved me many headaches at 3am trying to pack at the last minute. You can thank me later for good breath too…
A girlfriend of mine also makes lists of all the contacts she hopes to network with, as well as a detailed inventory of the questions she plans on asking, places to visit, and logistical details to remember. That’s why she’s my conference buddy, of course!
More is less stress!
Not sure whether to take the pink skirt or the black sheath dress? Well, take both….I know what is said about strategizing what to pack for conferences and networking events. Yet to reduce the stress of not having what you need on hand when you need, take a few inter-changeable options with you.
I wouldn’t take your entire wardrobe with you, as tempting as it may be. Just offer yourself a few options, in case the weather changes or you have a few good lunches.
This is coming from the woman who would only pack five-inch heels and slightly restrictive clothing to conferences. Fast-forward a few conferences, less forgiving calves and a dash of spiritual awakening, things are slightly different…
Whether you’re attending a conference for work or pleasure, there’s a great deal of focus, concentration and presence needed. Especially when attending for work, you need all the mental and physical energy you can muster, and this after packing, traveling, and being outside of your comfort zone. Being comfortable makes all the difference between enjoying the experience and soaking in all you can, versus barely making it through.
This may mean shorter heels, more flowy clothing, and a more open mindset for some. For others, it may be a matter of focusing on what really matters and prioritizing self-care. Whatever comfort means to you, consider including it in your list of non-negotiables when it comes to attending conferences.
One thing that’s seldom talked about on the topic of attending conferences is practicing self-care. Conferences and larger-scale networking events in general require a great deal of energy, time and focus. At times, they can be downright exhausting! In between absorbing new concepts, meeting new people, and acclimating to a different environment for a few days, these can be an exercise in self-depletion.
That’s why it’s extremely important to include self-care as part of your conference checklist. I recently attended the BlogHer17 conference, during which each day started with a meditation exercise for all the conference attendees. Led by a spiritual teacher, the whole audience practiced focused breathing for about five minutes before delving into the conference program.
Whether it’s a bonus massage, conscious breathing, sleeping a bit later, or just taking a breather every so often, consider adding self-care in your conference checklist.
Relinquish (some) control!
When it comes to attending a conference, there are some things you can control, like your agenda, your goals, or even how many drinks you’ll be having after-hours. However, there’s always an element of unknown, as with most life events.
As professional and rigid that some of the conferences you attend may be, be willing to relinquish some control and open yourself to the unexpected. That means networking with someone from a different industry, chatting with the hotel concierge (and getting valuable insider information), or stepping out on faith and seizing an impromptu opportunity.
- Mentally prepare before and during a conference!
- Handle the logistics!
- Use lists as your power prep tools!
- Reduce stress by offering yourself a few options when packing and prepping
- Prioritize comfort!
- Practice self-care!
- Relinquish (some) control
What else would you add to this list?
To Your Success,
The Corporate Sis.