How to survive a conference!

Conferences offer boundless opportunities to learn, meet other people, and feel connected to the marketing industry. But whilst you’re soaking up tons of industry tips, scurrying around to different sessions, and grabbing coffee or cocktails with colleagues, you might start to get... overwhelmed.

On the introvert-extrovert scale, I’m the type of person who relishes belting “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen in a bar full of strangers, so the fact that I can get burnt out at conferences made me realize that most people have probably felt a similar level of stress.

If you’ve felt the conference tension I’m talking about, here are the strategies I use to make the most out of conferences I’m attending whilst keeping the exhaustion at bay.

Download the app and plan in advance

This is the most obvious of my tips, as planning in advance can always help alleviate stress when there are six simultaneous sessions and thousands of people navigating the halls.

Take the time to examine the agenda and decide what sessions you think make the most sense to attend. You can always make on-the-fly changes, but you’ll likely feel better having a Plan A to refer to.

But there’s another great feature to having the agenda on hand: You can see which breaks are coming up and how long they are. If you’re the type of person who needs to recharge, don’t wing it by sitting in a session room and waiting to see when you’ll get a solid 15-minute break. See what’s coming up so that if you have two sessions back-to-back, you can step out, grab a drink of water, and take a beat before going into the next one.

Skip a session

Conference costs can certainly add up; between the flight, hotel, and the conference itself, there can be pressure to make the most out of the event.

But if you try to squeeze in “value” to every single minute, you’ll be on the fast-track to wanting to stay in bed and order room service by day two.

When you’re reviewing the agenda, make a note if there are any time slots that don’t have sessions that fit your interests. Sure, you can sit in a session about PPC if your focus is social media, but would your time be better spent taking that hour off and then being more focused during the sessions that really matter for your job? (I’d argue yes.)

On particularly jam-packed conference days, I tend to skip a session a day. It allows me to decompress, check emails, people watch, or do whatever I need to tune out for a bit so I’m able to concentrate for the sessions I really care about.

If you’re like me, you might feel a tad guilty not utilizing all of the resources available to you, but remember – it’s not about how long you’re sitting in these conference rooms; it’s about how much you’re actually internalizing. And if you listen to yourself and your needs, you’ll be able to take the right number of breaks to really take in the content you want to learn.

Book a hotel near the conference and walk

I don’t know about you, but to me, there’s something about being in a cab that feels rushed. Maybe it’s because I typically only use cabs when I’m running behind and can’t take public transport, but hailing a cab feels a little too much like the hustle’s already started.

When I spoke at SMX Advanced in Seattle, I noticed my hotel was a 15-minute walk from the convention centre, and the weather looked reasonably nice, so I took a path by the water and couldn’t believe how energized it made me feel. It served as a quiet chunk of time to take for myself before starting a hectic day.

For you, it might not be a walk. Maybe it’s doing some stretches in your hotel room or having a cup of tea at a local cafe. Take an aspect of your normal routine that you enjoy and that brings you comfort, and allocate time to do it in the morning before the conference programming begins. You’ll likely feel more like yourself and mentally prepared to take on what the day has in store.

Schedule some me-time

You might be friendly – or even friends! – with co-workers you’re traveling with. But between the events of the day and debriefing everything that happens with your co-workers in the evening, you might get tired of being “on” in a social capacity.

Pack something that serves as a solo activity you enjoy, like a book or a crossword puzzle, and literally schedule in time to do those things sometime before bed. It might seem silly, but it allows you to check in on how much alone time you’ve had and also bookmark the day with activities that help calm you and bring you a sense of satisfaction and a taste of your normal routine.

And finally, take a day off

This doesn’t go as much for conferences that are just a day or two, but for the ones that are three-plus days, the trip can feel a bit like a marathon. Working from home or taking a day off once you arrive home gives you the opportunity to rest after a long (and hopefully awesome!) week as well as recover from any travel. Or, if a conference ends Friday, make sure you don’t plan too much that weekend, because odds are you’ll want some time to unwind.

Written by Amanda Milligan, marketing director at content marketing agency Fractl

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