So as y’all know, I’m running a conference at the Westin Charlotte today! As I am actually wearing this outfit right now, I thought it was appropriate to bring up a topic that isn’t covered often: conference etiquette.
Like all my work wear posts, I encourage you to take this advice with a grain of salt. What works for my company and industry might not necessarily be the best in your company culture. I come from a more conservative background when it comes to business protocol. I realize a lot of you may not even work for Corporate America– maybe you’re a nurse, a teacher, a stay at home mom, work for a trendy start up, etc. Whatever your profession is, I hope you can take something away from this. If not, just scroll to the bottom for outfit details! 😉
1. Bring business cards. Honestly, I had to put this first. It may or not be the most important tip I can give you. If you don’t have business cards.. you need them. ASAP. That might sound old school but you never know who’s going to ask for it. If you work corporate, your company should provide a service that gives you business cards for free. Ask your boss if you’re unsure how to order them! If you own your own business, you can design business cards for relatively cheap here.
2. Be aware of your appearance. I hate to sound so superficial.. but the truth is that your attire, hair, makeup, and nails actually matter and I hope we can all agree. A conservative dress or business casual is usually appropriate. Make sure your hair is neat. Try to go for a daytime make up look rather than a smoky eye and bold lip.
Before I left for Charlotte, I got a mani/pedi and chose white nails. Like I said earlier this week, the bold blue nails were super fun, but not the most professional! Plus they were half grown out.. not a cute look. And neither are chipped nails or toe nails! I also always steam my dress the night before or the morning of a conference. You might be able to tell from the pictures that I didn’t do too good a job of that prior to this shoot.. haha! Oops!
P.S. The part of this outfit that I’d say I wouldn’t wear to a conference is the tassel earrings. They’re fun but they’re a little bit loud for my taste at this type of event. I try to wear simple jewelry like a dainty necklace, a watch and maybe my David Yurman bracelet. If you’re the type of person that needs to wear earrings, I suggest pearls or diamond studs.
3. Be aware of your body language. I’ll be the first to admit that I have terrible posture. I slump when I sit (which isn’t professional AT ALL) and my mom is always telling me to stand up straight. So be conscious of your body language especially if you’re sitting through a keynote session or networking with others in your industry. Another thing that people notice right off the bat when they see you is whether or not you’re chewing gum. I don’t suggest chewing gum at a professional conference; bring breath mints if you’re worried about post-lunch conversations!
4. Wear comfortable shoes. This bullet point used to read “wear flats”. But then I realized that was hypocritical because I try to always wear some type of heel if I can 🙂 The pair I’m wearing in these pictures come in so many colors (including black), and I’ve also worn these with a low heel that were comfortable all day. I 100% do NOT recommend pumps. I attempted wearing a stiletto-type pump at my first conference and changed into the flats I brought as back ups within an hour. My coworkers made fun of me and joked, “We were wondering when you would do that!” Rookie mistake!!
5. Wear a name badge. My coworker says that she hates lanyard badges because they always fall right at your chest and then in order to read your name people have to stare at your chest.. haha! We notice that a lot of people take the plastic clip off the lanyard and pin it to their lapel and it’s much less uncomfortable. If you are in a place where they provide sticker name tags, make sure you’re placing it in an appropriate and visible place so that people don’t have to stare awkwardly to call you by your name.
6. Don’t drink too much. You would think this goes without saying.. but hey.. there’s always that one person! I do say this with a caveat because we are in a day and age where a lot of companies have such a relaxed and “party like” culture. If you know that your boss, your VP, your Director, or your customers are going to get rip-roaring drunk at a reception, hey, why not have that extra drink!? But at my company, I usually just stick with the one glass of wine.
7. Take notes. At my conferences, we provide each attendee with a notepad and pen to take notes with. Nowadays I see a lot of customers just take out their phones to snap pictures of slides they want to remember (ie.e slides with links to visit, or speaker contact information). I’m old school and prefer a paper and pen myself! I would say bringing out a laptop during a keynote and typing away is pretty disrespectful. Finding a discrete way to take down the pertinent information you need is best.
8. Shake hands with everyone. As someone who runs conferences from the back end, I have a ton of handshaking to do! I’ve gotten in the habit of holding my clipboard in my left hand so that I can shake people’s hands with my right hand. Even if I’m familiar with someone (virtually or otherwise) and am connecting with them again, a handshake is still appropriate. Hugs or pats on the back at work events are usually a no for me. On the other hand, if you just smile and nod at someone when you’re being introduced.. that’s a little too cold. Stick out your hand and introduce yourself confidently!!
9. Don’t gaggle over the free awesome food. This is another one that you’d think goes without saying.. but you’d be shocked at how many people I see that have NO SHAME. We had a customer one time come with his own take out box.. he ate his meal and then came back, filled his take home box with food.. and took it home. I’m not even kidding. We still talk about it to this day! Please don’t be that person! If you’re at a conference, 99% of the time complimentary food will be provided. The time to expect it will be on the agenda, so don’t ask people “When is lunch?” You’re at the conference to learn or to network.. not for the free lunch.
10. Disconnect to connect. [My mom always says this to me in my personal life so I can only imagine how delighted she’ll be to see it written on my blog]. But what I mean by that is, put your phone down and listen to the presenters. There is nothing more upsetting than giving a speech/presentation and seeing people in the audience texting, tweeting, or checking their emails. It also makes you unapproachable. How are you supposed to grow your network if your head is buried in your phone or laptop?
11. Follow up via email. As someone that coordinates conference presentations, I follow up with each of my speakers to thank them for their time in preparing content for the sessions. I try to remember something about each of them so I can personalize the message. But as a conference attendee, I would still follow up via email to thank speakers for what you learned, and maybe tell them what you took away from the conference. You could thank the organizer, or you could tell a peer (from the business card you exchanged 😉 ) that it was nice to connect with them. You never know who could offer you your next job offer, next collaboration, or next business venture. Sending a gracious and genuine email will bring you to the forefront of someone’s mind for these types of opportunities.
12. Expand your network via LinkedIn. This is so critical to me. The day after a conference, I always add eveyrone I met on LinkedIn. The best thing I was ever taught during my entry level position 4 years ago was “Your network is your net worth.” This has rang true for me so many times over the years and it’s one of the first pieces of advice I give to fresh college grads. LinkedIn is one of the best ways to expand upon your network.
I hope this helps you nail your next industry event! Do you have any tips of your own to add? Was this helpful to you? Comment below and let me know!!
Photos: Madison Katlin Photography
Wrap Dress- Loft; Shoes- Nordstrom; Rose Gold Watch- Michael Kors; Silver Watch- c/o Michele; Necklace- Kendra Scott; Earrings- c/o Bauble Bar; Bag- Sole Society; Sunglasses- Amazon; Lipstick- MAC Hot Gossip