Crowd at a convention.

8 Expert Tips for Attending a Conference in 2023 (Including 1 You’ll Never Guess)

As you can see by this picture, I’ve performed at countless conventions and conferences over the years, and I’ve learned ALL the Do’s and Don’ts to make the most of the convention experience. Whether you’re new to conferences, or could simply use a refresher, I’ve got your back.

Check out this list of 8 easy tips guaranteed to maximize your time before, during, and after your next conference, convention, or trade show.

Convention Badges

1. Stay as Close to the Conference Hotel as Possible

If you sign up early, you may be able to secure a discounted rate at the official conference hotel. Sponsors often block off a set of rooms for this purpose.

Staying at the official hotel not only saves you money on lodging and taxis, but time and hassle as well. If the conference is only an elevator ride from your room, you won’t have to race through breakfast, drag a heavy rolling bag outside from venue to venue, or factor in transportation each day.

If it’s not possible to stay at the convention hotel, find one as close as you can. Set your alarm an extra twenty minutes early in case of any list-second glitches.

Pro-Tip: Even if the official hotel is more expensive than other nearby hotels, it’s worth considering the pros and cons beyond price, such as ease of networking. After a long day, the hotel lounge is often where the action is.

2. Pack Light, But Beware of the Climate

Staying in Florida? Wear LAYERS. They crank the AC like crazy there. Staying in Vegas? Bring chapstick to combat the desert climate. Spending a few days in Denver? Drink extra water, plan for extra rest, and try to avoid caffeine* to minimize potential altitude sickness.

*I know… this one’s probably not happening. ;-)

Another reason to pack light? You’ll want room for all the swag and goody bags your family members are expecting back home.

Pro-Tip: Use the Bundle Method aka the Garment Burrito to eradicate wrinkles in jackets or blazers and save space in your luggage. Here’s a quick step-by-step video from the Today Show on how to pack perfectly every time.

3. Don’t Drink All the Free Drinks

Drink at the Wynn
Drink at the Wynn

This is especially true in Vegas. Lots of drinking + dry climate = pain.

There will be Happy Hours. Open bars. Client dinners. Pace yourself!

Networking is half the fun at conventions, but no one wants a hangover the next morning, or memories of a tipsy, embarrassing monologue from the night before.

Stay hydrated and while we’re at it, consider carrying a few protein bars or trail mix packets for a quick bite on the go. You’ll need your energy!

4. Set Realistic, Clear-Cut Goals Before You Leave

Before arriving, take the time to set your goals. It’s not the quantity that matters—it’s the specificity. Better to write 3 precise intentions than 10 vague, unquantifiable ones.

Here are some examples for you to Mad Lib:

  • Strengthen my connection with _______ (insert name of a professional contact you’ve only seen on Zoom before now. Face-to-face time matters).
  • Increase my knowledge in the areas of _______ and _______.
  • Meet and trade contact info with an employee at ________ (insert specific client or company you’re targeting).
  • Take note of any sales and marketing tactics that generate the most _______ (excitement, innovation, crowds).
  • Schedule a trial or demo of _______ (insert a cool new product or software you’re eager to try).

Oh! And don’t forget business cards. They’re still highly requested at conferences.

5. What to Wear to a Conference

Ladies: No pumps or heels. Save your feet. Depending on how conservative your industry is, choose flats or sneakers instead. Wear shoes you know will be comfortable for standing in lines and walking around all day.

Guys typically have it easier. Casual? Rock jeans and a blazer. Formal? Wool suit with or without a tie. Remember: men’s dress shoes can be punishing during a long day. Maybe check out some Wolf & Sheppard shoes?

Have meetings scheduled between workshops and keynotes? Bring a backpack. Keep it light or it will weigh you down. Here’s some professional backpacks that look good:

The main goal is to match your clothing to the dress level of those in attendance. As you can see below, when I’m at a banking conference in Boston, I wear a suit & tie. When I’m at a farming trade show in Iowa, polo & khakis is considered formal.

Formal clothes at a banking convention.
Smart casual attire at the Farm Progress Show

6. Chaos Happens: Build In Extra Time

Lantech exhibit at PackExpo

Depending on the size and schedule of your trade show, you may have multiple meetings across a very large convention hall. Things always take longer to get to than you think!

Don’t schedule back-to-back meet-ups for the same reason. Allow yourself time between events to regroup, catch a bite, or check your notes for the next one.

Meetings run late, and you want a grace period of at least 20 minutes if you’re really connecting with someone. Don’t put yourself in the position of cutting a great session short to be on time for something that’s less important.

7. Have a Free Moment? Check Out the Exhibit Hall

Top vendors and partners will showcase the latest and greatest products. You never know what you might see (live music, robots, free raffle prizes).

If you’re lucky, you may even see me! I’m a trade show magician, and I entertain crowds while educating them about my client’s products and services.

Joe Skilton gathers a crowd at a trade show.

FYI: Some booths will have really nice swag, like Bluetooth speakers and Yeti mugs. They’ll want to scan your badge before they give you the free stuff. That’s fine: You get free stuff, and they get an email address. You can always unsubscribe. But just because something is free doesn’t mean it’s worth hauling back on the plane. Be picky.

And now… my favorite suggestion, the one you aren’t expecting…

8. Attend the MOST RANDOM Panel You Can Find

Seriously! You can even make a game out of it.

Choose a topic that A) you’ve never heard of B) seems completely unrelated to your line of work or C) you’ve been curious about but could never justify attending in the past. This time, give yourself permission to go for it, and show up with an open mind (or at least an open Notes app).

Worst-case scenario: You’ve learned something new, even if that something is, “I’m glad I never have to learn anything more about this.”

Best-case scenario: You’ve gained a fresh perspective on your industry, a new way of thinking about an old problem, or insight into a department you’d never given much thought to before.

Joe Skilton presents at the Smile Network Conference

Even if you don’t see a practical application for the info right this second… you never know when it will come in handy down the line.

You’ve also gained a unique conversation starter for the final networking night, the airplane flight home, or the post-convention office meeting. “So I decided to check out the Crocheting for Tech Bros / Parkour Your Way to the Corner Office panel, and guess what…? Those guys are not messing around!”

Odds are, you’re the only one from your team who attended that panel, and thus the only one who gained a keen insight into tackling an upcoming issue.

Above all, have fun!

Good luck and I hope to see you on the trade show floor!

Joe Skilton engages attendees at a trade show

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