As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, I’m on a bit of a whirlwind series of trips right now that include three conferences: MilspoCON (formerly EMBARK), Milblogging (also known as the Military Influencer Conference), and FinCon! As you may know, I attended FinCon last year and found it to be an absolutely transformative experience, which is why when the opportunity to attend additional conferences came up, I absolutely jumped on them.
A couple of conference newbies, though, have reached out to me because they’re unsure of how to best prepare for these or other conferences. I thought I’d collect my thoughts on the subjects so that the next time one of those questions pops into my inbox, I can point him or her right to this post. Transparency, friends, transparency.
Any “how to prepare for a conference” will tell you to bring business cards. Last year, in preparation for FinCon, I bought waaaaayyy too many business cards, so this isn’t something I’m worries about. I had my dear friend Caroline Hatfield design my Burke Does business cards back then and I still absolutely love them. Even though, my branding has changed slightly since then, I’ve decided to use these cards because my brand messaging is still the same. Plus, I’ve already gotten tons of them, and I’m not buying new ones because of a new logo (#frugalityisalifestyle).
So, yes, business cards are a must, but don’t go crazy about them. I strongly suggest including your picture on them because people are much more likely to match your conversation to the card in their hand when you do that.
Also, a tip that I learned from my sorority advisor: after you’ve gotten a business card and ended the conversation, discreetly write on the card where and how you met the person, as well as what you talked about. This will allow you to write a more personable follow-up email.
Lay out your clothes ahead of time. Do not pack like you’re going on vacation! Pack like you won’t have time to decide what to wear!
Do Your Homework
This is what I think really separates the cream of the crop from the rest of the conference attendees. You can’t just go to a conference and then figure it out. Before you go, you should scope out which sessions you’d like to attend. This will also allow you to be strategic about which sessions you’re comfortable skipping in exchange for meetings or the opportunity to talk to someone new. Things will absolutely come up, but planning is an invaluable strategic step that can make the difference for you as you go through the conference.
For Keynote Speakers, you should absolutely read their books (if relevant) or otherwise familiarize yourself with them. Know who they are, what they do, and why they’re relevant to you and your work. You should come prepared with 2-3 questions per speaker that you’ll be able to adjust based on the talk they give. Be attentive, take notes, and engage the speaker with your attention. In the same way that their speech can be memorable to you, your attention as a member of the audiences can be memorable to them.
As I mentioned on Instagram, I just finished reading David Bach’s Smart Couples Finish Rich. I’m hoping to bring my copy to ask him to sign. I’m also going to bring my copy of The Broke and Beautiful Life to ask Stefanie O’Connell to sign.
Heading into what I’m going to start calling conference season, I also plan on reading Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. I’ve heard it’s a must for these circumstances.
Scope out who else will be attending
You’ll want to identify individuals and organizations who are attending beforehand if they’re someone you want to talk to. For example, one of my biggest freelance writing clients came from FinCon last September. Over a year later, I’m still writing for them on a monthly basis!
From volunteering at check-in to helping someone carry their bags upstairs to giving a talk, there will be lots of opportunities to participate at whatever conference you’re going to, so dive in head-first! You have nothing to lose (except for maybe a session or two) but everything to gain in meaningful connections.
Break out of your Bubble
Having gone to Fincon before, there is a certain collective of bloggers who took me under their wing last year that I can’t wait to see. MilspoCON and Milblogging, though, will be new experiences for me. Rather than spot the one or two familiar faces in the room and be, instead, make the effort to break out of your familiarity bubble and meet new people. If you wanted to talk to people you already know, why did you go to the conference in the first place? You should have just invited your friends over to your house.
Embrace Who You Are, Stop Pretending To Be Who You Think You Should Be
I mean this incredibly personally- when I went to Fincon last year, I felt embarrassed to admit that I was a lifestyle blogger. Well, I’M A LIFESTYLE BLOGGER FOLKS AND THAT IS THAT. With a tagline like Inspiring Millennial Women to Live Financially, Physically, and Professionally Fit Lives, how could I ever be anything else?
Embrace it! I am a lifestyle blogger. I’m never going to niche into just investing or just debt pay down or just retirement or just Crossfit or just any one of those things. The fact of the matter is that I’ve always cared way more about the well-roundedness of it all, so that’s what this space reflects. If you’re embarrassed by the work you’re doing, you need to reevaluate it!
There’s going to be tons of opportunities to take all the phenomenal lessons you’ve learned at the conference. Don’t stress about implementing it all right away! Enjoy the conference. When you get home, there will be plenty of time to create an action plan (which I’d suggest you do as project on [Todoist](todoist.com)). Focus on the conference. Be present on the joy there. There will be time to work- and sleep- when you get home!
Emilie is an Army Wife, Data Engineer, and CrossFitter with a love for working through her thoughts in this space on the internet. She lives with her husband Casey and their pup Bo in Savannah, GA.