As some of you might know, some time ago I started my first full time job after university. For the past two days, this job required me to attend my first congress. I’ve been to congresses and fairs before, but to be honest, everything I did then was grab as many freebies and food as possible – which can be nice, but is not exactly the definition of helpful for your career. So while I’m in the plane home from my two days of sitting in lectures and more or less effective networking, I’m sharing some things with you I’ll try to keep in mind next time I’M going to one of these events.
Do your research
Now this is something I did not really do, and as soon as I arrived on-site, I started to regret it. Of course; I had a brief look at the people and companies who were there, and also the lectures which were held, but I realized that it would have helped me a lot if I had had written down exactly which lectures I wanted to see, when they start and where they are. Not only because I lost my programme folder within the first day, also because many people like to talk about what they have already seen and what they are planning to see – and being forced to join them to the most boring lecture of the week is about as bad as admitting that you have no clue where you want to go to next. At this point, I also want to give you the tip to not ignore the lectures in smaller rooms – I came to the conclusion that that these people were much more enthusiastic about their topics that the people on the main stage, who mostly only shared information everybody was already aware of anyways.
Network before the networking
Most organizers offer apps or some other tool which lets you know who is going to attend your chosen event. I realized that it would have helped me a lot if I had researched about the people who are there, and also to have contacted them in advance to facilitate a meeting during the congress. I know that the list of people attending seems pretty much endless, but if you try to filter the companies you really are interested in, you will get a short list of people important to you very quickly. Also, it is very hard to meet people by chance at a occasion like this. Most people already know one another, so if you are new to the group, it might be harder for you to connect with somebody unknown. However, if you already talked to someone beforehand, and in the best case even arranged a meeting with him or her, this person can introduce you to someone else, who again knows somebody, and so on. You get the point.
Choose a smaller occasion
If you have limited to no contacts in the industry, it is much easier to form bonds at smaller occasions. There’s no chance to get to know everybody at a big congress, and finding a person who really can help you is exhausting when having a huge amount of people you do not really want to talk to as well. So at big events, people tend to strengthen the bonds they already have rather than trying to find new valuable business contacts. In contrary to that, people at smaller fairs are much more willing to get to know you and your company. Also, if you have the chance for speed networking – do it! It might feel odd, but you have nothing to lose, and it’s an easy and quick way to learn about other businesses and gather some contacts.
Dress to impress
First of all, don’t make the same mistake as I did and wear high heels. While many women do, I strongly recommend you not to, since you are going to walk or stand all day long. And unless you have really amazing feet and shoes, high heels are going to hurt. Secondly, don’t underdress, but also try to feel comfortable in your clothes. As mentioned, you will spend a whole lot of time in them, so the skin-tight dress which does not allow you to breathe is probably not ideal. Lastly, you have to decide whether you want to be seen or not. Now at a congress with 90% males, which still is quite common in quite a lot of branches, it’s not too hard for women to be seen. Already if you wear a non-black blazer, people will remember you. For men on the other side, this is very difficult. Being basically forced to wear a suit, there is not much you can do except for wearing a colourful tie and hoping for the best. Sorry.
Don’t expect too much
Although being listed last, for me, this is the most important point. People tend to have huge expectations when it comes to congresses and fairs, but especially when you don’t know many people yet or maybe are not that great at networking, you will be disappointed if you expect too much. Everybody is mostly concerned about himself or herself, and if you don’t have a certain age and are a woman on top of that, people will not take you seriously and/or simply ignore you. Don’t take it personally, and be honest to yourself, you probably don’t have that much influence yet to be interesting in a business sense to most other people. But you will get there.
So this was my first experience with a congress. It was nice, but has heled me as a person more than it has brought forward my company. Which, however, is fine by me.
xx, K (: