How to Prepare to Attend a Conference

Hi all! I’m blogging from Atlanta right now at this year’s College Media Association conference (which I am so thankful to my university for paying for me to attend!), and it’s been wonderful seeing so many other college bloggers, journalists, writers, and photographers all in one place.

This is by no means the first conference I have attended during my undergraduate experience—I’ve been to the Virginia Music Educators’ Association (VMEA) conference in Norfolk, Va., and the International Student Leadership Conference (ISLC) at James Madison University—but this was the furthest from my hometown (and my first ever experience on a commercial plane!). It took a lot of preparation to get ready for this extensive trip, and I know it can be totally daunting to someone who has never been to a conference before. That’s why I’m here to help!

How to Prepare to Attend A Professional Organization Conference in College as an Undergrad | Michelle Adams Blog

Whether you’re attending to learn more about your craft, or you have goals to network with peers and industry leaders, these conference tips will help you be super successful at your upcoming event.

What to bring:

If you’re going out of town for the conference, you’ll need to make sure you pack all your basic necessities (like toiletries and clothes) but it’s important to pack the right outfits and important conference items, too.

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A great view from a skybridge I took on my trip to Atlanta!

Even if the only conference attendees will be fellow students, it’s important to dress professionally. You don’t necessarily need to pull out your formal wear or anything, but some nice slacks or a cute dress will ensure that you don’t stand out from the crowd in a bad way. You’ll feel a lot more comfortable talking to presenters and industry moguls if you’re not wearing jeans or shorts!

Additionally, in the midst of packing your toothbrushes and hair straighteners, it’s really easy to forget to bring the things you’ll need for the actual event itself. Things like notebooks (and pens!), business cards, and planners are always a good idea to bring along. You’ll definitely want to take notes at many of the sessions (especially if they’re good!), so you don’t want to pass on bringing a spiral or something to write on!

Even if you really can’t handle writing your notes out on paper, whatever you do—do not take your notes on your laptop or phone! It looks super unprofessional and can even be distracting to the speaker. Instead, get an app on your iPad or tablet (I like Penultimate on iPad) that allows you to write with a stylus to take notes. It’s a super simple alternative to lugging big notebooks around, plus you’ll be sure not to offend a presenter.

How to plan:

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My classmates and I headed to Atlanta for the conference!

Nowadays, a lot of conferences have smartphone apps to help you browse all the sessions offered and plan them in your schedule before you even arrive onsite. If so, you should utilize this! Take a look at what presentations look most inviting to you, and add them to your personal schedule. You don’t have to make any final decisions, and you can always switch last-minute if you prefer, but this will help you plan ahead if you need to do any traveling between sessions!

Don’t feel obligated to attend certain sessions just because your friends or colleagues are—make sure you go to the ones that you feel will be the best for you and your personal career goals.

Also—don’t forget to allot some time for you to eat lunch! (You won’t learn anything if all you can think about is how hungry you are.) 

How to act: 

This seems like it should be a no brainer, but when you’re at a professional conference, you need to act professionally—in, and out, of the sessions and conference venue. Chances are, many fellow attendees will be roaming around the town after hours, and you don’t want them to recognize you the next day as “the crazy girl from last night.”

Even if you’re in a sour mood, be cordial and polite to everyone you interact with—even the hotel staff. People will notice, and it could affect your career long-term.

How to reflect:

Once you get back home from the conference, it’s great to reflect on what you’ve learned. See what professional goals you were able to accomplish while away, and add any new connections to your LinkedIn. It can also be beneficial to go through your notes and pull out bits and pieces that you want to apply to your life (or maybe even blog about).

Reflecting will help you absorb and apply everything you heard at the conference, so it will all stick with you much longer!

I hope this helped you plan for your upcoming conference! Don’t forget to tell me all about your experiences in the comments below.

What other tips do you have for your fellow undergrads? Comment below!
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