The word conference sounded nerve-wracking, intimidating and “too professional” to me as a fresh university student. In second year, I received a Facebook event invitation from a student group hosting a conference at our school. My first thoughts were about business suits, business cards and business etiquette—no place for a second year Communications and Writing student like myself. The conference tagline emphasized entrepreneurship, business and technology. None of my friends wanted to go, so I decided to let the opportunity pass. A few days later, I opened an email in my inbox that mentioned free tickets to the conference. I emailed back, not knowing the new doors that would soon open.
Luckily, I knew a few of the conference committee members, who introduced me to other people. I picked up a name tag, registration bag and schedule. I looked at the schedule. There were different categories in different rooms with different breakout sessions including marketing, entrepreneurship and design. Their sponsors list also showed companies in fields I was interested in. I planned my day based on the speaker profiles and learned many new things during the day.
The important thing is to ask questions. At first, I talked to everyone and gave them all my business card and added them all on LinkedIn. Over the past couple of years, I have learned to maintain contacts with a small number of people (as they say ,”quality over quantity”). It never hurts to start up a conversation with the speakers, employees or other conference delegates. Everybody attended for a reason and you never know who can help you. The key is strategic networking and singling out which companies and resources will be most beneficial.
Company showcases offer students with more opportunities to network. Start-ups, non-profit organizations and large businesses who attend these events are looking to hire students. If not, they wouldn’t be there. I learned about new opportunities in marketing and design. I also learned about creative recruitment agencies, something I didn’t even know existed before.
What’s the point of inspirational talks? That’s what I thought at first. I had the power to choose which talks I attended. The program booklets usually have speaker and topic descriptions. Even if it’s something you don’t know about, give it a try. The quality of experience that these professionals bring to these talks gives valuable knowledge that cannot be found in the classroom. I also found it helpful to introduce myself to the speakers and follow up with them.
Making valuable connections
Keep business cards and contact information on you. If you don’t have a business card, make a simple one with your name, program and expected degree. It’s an easy way to give your contact information during quick interactions as chances are other people may swarm the person you talked to.
What was the first conference you attended? What did you learn there? Tell us below in the comments!
Photo credit: Rune Johnsson