Surviving Conferences

9. General Tips

Write it up as you go along, you’ll never get round to it once you are back in the office.

Often if you are attending on your own it may be difficult to break the ice, ask people for help with some aspect of the event even if you don’t need it. If other people look lost or confused offer help, even if you don’t know the answer – find the solution together.

Be curious about everyone and everything.

Many people believe that conferences are about meeting people and making contacts, the sessions are just a bonus.  Make sure you write down names and institutions of the people you meet, and a note of why you wrote them down.

Follow up contacts as soon as possible after the conference.

Always have a notebook and keep one page for references/books/articles that you want to look up when you get home and one page for ‘good ideas’ or things you want to do as a result of something that was said or something you saw at the conference.

If publishers have a stall, talk to them about that idea you had for a book.

Don’t surround yourself with your work colleagues.

Make sure you have an up to date business card.



  1. An academic conference is – kind of like – a music festival. You may have poured over the programme, circled everything you want to see, filled every moment of every day with sessions, networking, workshops… but you are going to do probably about half of what you plan. If you do more, you are not at a very good conference/festival.

    Leave “dead space”, for reflection, random conversation and a little bit for leaving the venue entirely and taking a walk to sort your head out. Aim to take at least one key point from every actual session you attend, but be prepared to take several more from conversations at the bar or over coffee.

    If you want to get plastered, go for it. But you’ll make a fool of yourself, and get nothing at all out of the second day. That said, do attend the social events, it’s a good way to meet people you wouldn’t otherwise talk to.

    If you are presenting or promoting something, do it gently and with audience participation. Not only is this usually the best way of disseminating information, it’s less stressful.

    Finally, be nice to the person representing the major funding body. Don’t badger them for funding or tell them off for allocating funding “wrong” (i.e not to you). They get this all the time – if you go over and start being friendly to them they will be very grateful. And then probably say something quotably “off message”

    Comment by David Kernohan — August 23, 2008 @ 12:07 pm | Reply

  2. If you are not the sort of person who easily strikes up conversations with strangers, make yourself a large badge to use at all new conferences, which reads something like “I am new here – please talk to me”. You might feel a bit of a fool wearing it, but most people are generous with their time and will not only talk to you and go out of their way to ensure you are included, but the badge provides an ice-breaker and a way into more meaningful conversation. Those who are outgoing may scoff at the concept, but for those less socially confident it is a useful strategy in order to make the most of the conference.

    Comment by Simon Ball — September 26, 2008 @ 8:45 am | Reply

  3. Interesting stuff, Lawrie.

    Colleagues might also like to look at the following which reinforce much of what you have written:

    M McAleer, L Oxley (2001)”The Ten Commandments for Attending a Conference”

    M McAleer, L Oxley (2002) “The Ten Commandments for Presenting a Conference Paper”

    Comment by Virginia King, iPED — September 26, 2008 @ 12:40 pm | Reply

  4. My tip is to be restrained in collecting handouts, you’ll begin to struggle to carry them all and are then less likely to give sufficient attention to the ones you are really interested in when you return to your organisation.

    Comment by Laura Dean — September 29, 2008 @ 11:32 am | Reply

  5. I like to grab photocopies of posters I particularly like aesthetically – they give me a folio of ideas for presenting future posters. Trends change all the time, and its good to keep up to date with what you think are the best looking posters at a conference. You can also loan the folio to other people when they are designing their posters.

    Comment by Leonie Barnett — November 10, 2008 @ 6:00 am | Reply

  6. I always take time to talk with the secretarial, support and other conference organisation ‘ground staff’. They usually know who to ask if you need something sorting out behind the scenes. Folk on the ground rarely get the thanks they deserve for keeping events running smoothly – make someone’s day by saying thank you!

    Comment by Darren Comber — April 29, 2009 @ 1:09 pm | Reply

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