Top Tips for a First Time Delegate

Having recently attended my first conference, it is fair to say I had a few questions and uncertainties as to what to expect, what was expected of me and how I would get the most out of the experience that may have seemed obvious to seasoned conference attendees.

I have pulled together some top tips from my experience as a first time delegate that will hopefully help you with your first delegate experience.

Book early

Before you do anything else, you need to make sure you have booked onto the conference! Spaces will be limited, so don’t spend too much time debating whether or not you should attend or you might miss out on the opportunity.

This tip also applies to booking your travel – it will be unlikely (though very convenient) for your conference to be held down the road, so make sure you book in advance to guarantee your seat and avoid awkwardly standing sandwiched in the aisle of the train for hours, having to manoeuver your bags every time the catering trolley comes through or another passenger needs to disembark the carriage.

When should you arrive?

Although the thought of sacrificing a precious evening on your sofa in favour of travelling to the location of your conference may not be appealing, if you have a substantial journey to undertake to reach your destination, I would definitely recommend arriving the night before if you can. Other delegates will almost certainly be in the same boat as you, so arriving the night before your conference can also provide an excellent networking opportunity to meet others attending the conference.

The conference day will be busy with a lot of information to absorb so feeling relaxed and refreshed will be the best way to start it. You don’t want to be half way through a train journey that you started at 5am, stressed at the realisation you’ve forgotten something important in your rush to catch the train on time, or arriving late due to signal failures and rush hour delays. Staying over will also give you the chance to explore a new city and culture, plus, who doesn’t love a night in a hotel?!

Be prepared

You should have been sent an agenda or itinerary in advance of the conference. Familiarise yourself with it and think of any key pointers you hope to learn from specific seminars, or the day in general. Are there breakout sessions you would love to attend? A question you want to ask the presenter? The more you prepare, the more you will get out of the event. A lot of conferences only take place once a year, so this is your opportunity to soak up as much information as possible and to discuss your ideas.

What to pack

Aside from your overnight essentials, it is important to spend some time thinking about what to take so you don’t forget anything.

Although conference organisers will probably provide pens and paper and will most likely circulate the presentation after the conference, there is no harm in bringing your own notebook and pen (plus a couple of spares!) If you are keen to network and make new connections, bring your business cards along too.

It is worth bringing a couple of outfits in case of any accidental dinner or coffee spillages – the last thing you want is to be hiding the breakfast stain on your shirt behind your itinerary all day!

Depending on the layout and agenda of your conference, you could spend a lot of time on your feet or walking around, so comfortable shoes are a must.

Bring something to do on the train

Is there a report you’ve been meaning to type up or an article you’ve been putting off reading as something has else more important has always come along to distract you?  The train is your time to tackle it! Think ahead and use the uninterrupted time wisely to get ahead – it will also make the time go faster. But don’t use something that requires the internet as connections may be temperamental!

Be confident

(Or at least pretend to be) entering a room full of professionals within your field can be daunting. You may worry that people will ask you complicated questions or that you won’t have anything relevant to contribute to group discussions, however try to put these doubts to the back of your mind. The chances are, other delegates may be feeling the same way.

Whilst there is no pressure to speak if you don’t want to, discussing something that you have been working on or struggling to achieve with new people is a great opportunity for fresh opinions and insights. Also, feeling that you have helped someone else is a great feeling – I was really pleasantly surprised when I shared a helpful tip during a small group discussion and other delegates wrote it down as something they could implement.

Finally, if you have attended the conference with a colleague, use the lunch break as an opportunity to sit with someone new, make new connections and just enjoy the experience.

Make notes

Hopefully the programme will be packed with seminars, talks and workshops that are so relevant to your work it’s like they were written just for you. However even if some of the topics covered aren’t directly relevant, still listen, make notes and absorb what you can – you never know what the future has in store or what project may land in your inbox on Monday morning. You could even pick up a top tip that would really help another colleague and you’ll be really grateful for those notes you made.

Enjoy it!

I thoroughly enjoyed attending my first conference and found the opportunity to hear from experts further along in their careers to be really valuable, as well as the chance to understand how other organisations operate. I’m still fairly new in my role, and so the more chances there are to network, learn and develop the better – bring on the next conference!

One last thing

Of course all conferences are different, but from my experience, be prepared for plentiful refreshments! I probably got a little over excited by the copious amounts of free coffee and freshly baked biscuits that I gently buzzed my way through the session immediately after the morning break…