Surviving Conferences

1. Pre conference preparation

Most people consider that pre-conference preparation occurs when you’re giving a paper or workshop. But, whether you are presenting at the conference or not there are still plenty of things that you can do to prepare yourself for participating.

If you know what sessions you will be attending take the time to read around the subject, this especially worth doing with the keynote addresses.

Read the pre-information, conference materials / handbook in order to make informed choices of parallel sessions.

If you are attending an overseas conference consider shipping any heavy proceedings / conference material back to you institution (an average set of conference proceedings and trawl around an exhibition can lead to several kilos of extra baggage). This can often be pre arranged with good couriers.

Don’t just go to the sessions with titles that sound interesting, see what the conference information says about structure of sessions (for example, is it a workshop or a series  of short papers?).

Most conference information will contain delegate lists, don’t just scan them for people you may know, although this is an important activity, scan them for people you may like to discuss something with (perhaps by looking and seeing if they are presenting on something).

If possible arrive early and participate in all the pre-conference activities, field trips, get-togethers etc.

If you have an especially busy diary block out a day after the conference, this will ensure that you have time to reflect and follow-up on any actions from the conference. It also means you won’t rush off to get to ‘that meeting’, which will only leave you feeling stressed and unreflective.



  1. I’d add an explanation about why arrive early and get involved socially. It is important to feel settled and ‘at home’ at a conference in order to get the most out of it – making some acquaintances is helpful especially if the conference is new to you. If possible arrive early, move into your room and scout out the rooms where the conference is based. It reduces the chances of getting flustered and lost later on!

    Comment by John Peters — September 26, 2008 @ 9:37 am | Reply

  2. If you are unsure it is wise to check there will be a hard copy of the conference sessions/abstracts either in advance and/or on arrival. I went to a conference in Europe a few years ago and its aim was to be paperless I think. Choices for the sessions were supposed to have been made online in advance. I (along with several other delegates) didn’t do this assuming we could make the choices on arrival/registration drawing upon the conference proceedings. Eventually the conference organisers were able to give us a handout of the session titles and names of presenters, but not the abstracts. As you can imagine, it made it very difficult to make any informed choices.

    Comment by Rachael Carkett — September 30, 2008 @ 12:29 pm | Reply

  3. This may seem simplistic, but I have made it a practice to register and pay my fares to conferences as early as possible. There are amazing discounts available if you don’t wait till the last minute before buying travel tickets, and accommodation, apart from the conference early-bird offers – my last international trip cost less than $1500 for the entire conference.

    Comment by Karin Stokes — October 10, 2008 @ 2:22 am | Reply

  4. if you have special dietary requirements make sure you let the organisers know in advance. my experience is that vegetarian or vegan food is not a problem as long as you have let them know before you arrive. it’s usually better than the standard meal as well

    Comment by Michelle Haynes — October 13, 2008 @ 9:40 am | Reply

  5. Check out whether they are looking for volunteer helpers – often students or other network members are used for registration desks, gofers, traffic controllers, etc. This can have two positive impacts: 1. you get to meet (and be known by) the organisers as well as other students from around the country (or world), and 2. you usually get discounted (or free) registration to the meeting. There are no doubt other benefits to this, and I certainly recommend volunteering if you can. Saving on rego can allow you to spend more on accommodation close to the venue (also a recommendation of mine as it saves valuable travel time).

    Comment by Leonie Barnett — November 10, 2008 @ 5:45 am | Reply

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