Are You Ready To Return To In-Person Conferences?

Recently, I attended my first in-person conference in two years. I had to get my sea legs back as presenting to a live audience and networking between sessions is something I had not done since the Covid pandemic began. I have become accustomed to staring at a green dot on my laptop and networking via chat. 

The first day was a bit awkward, and I was afraid I would have to relinquish my extrovert card. While I had always thrived and was energized by conferences and meeting new people, I was completely out of sorts. But like riding a bike, it all came flooding back. 

As we slowly return to in-person meetings and conferences in various forms and cadences, this is an excellent time to refresh some of the best practices. 


Arrive early

I’ve given countless talks during my career, and I still like to arrive early to the room where I will be presenting, ideally before anyone else gets there. It lets me see if people are sitting in rows or around tables, how many seats are available, how far the stage is from the audience, etc. It lets my mind and body get used to the environment where I will need to interact with an audience, which ideally wants to learn more. I have to find a way to be engaging, and knowing the room’s layout is a critical first step.


What works for you

Aside from not being able to read and feed off the audience’s energy when I am looking at a screen, the most challenging part for me with virtual talks is that I am stuck in front of my screen. I cannot move. When I present in person, I hate being tethered to a podium.

When I arrived early, I asked the audiovisual technician if he had a lavalier or clip-on microphone. Opting out of speaking from the podium allowed me to walk around the room (at a safe distance, of course), ask questions of the audience, and engage them in the presentation. I like my talks to be interactive, and being closer to the audience members and looking them in the eye is a crucial ingredient. 


Take advantage of the time between sessions

The time between sessions, the line at Starbucks, or the bathroom, is an ideal time to meet new people. The conference name tag, usually the size of a license plate, is a natural indication that they are here for the same purpose as you. Have some starter sentences ready, benign conversation starters, so that you can engage in conversation. Consider, what was your favorite session? or did you have to travel far to get here? If you are more introverted and the idea of networking is about as appealing as a root canal, don’t fret; there are strategies you can use to get through the social event without feeling depleted.


Contact people in advance

There were several people who I knew would be at this conference—some I had yet to meet in person, and others with whom I wanted to catch up. I reached out in advance, asking to meet up for a walk or coffee. We synchronized our schedules and found a time that worked. I had the opportunity to have deeper conversations with new and old friends and colleagues.

While virtual conferences will likely be a staple of our present and future, for those ready to and can venture out to in-person professional meetings, a little advanced planning can help you get your sea legs back.


Source: Forbes
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