5 Biggest Mistakes Conference Attendees Make

5 Biggest Mistakes Conference Attendees Make

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Make your conference experience better by avoiding these five common mistakes:

  1. Trying to do too much

At every conference, there will be so much to do that it can be easy to become overwhelmed. Between keynote talks, regular talks, poster presentations, workshops, and social events, it's hard to keep up with everything. Trying to attend absolutely all of it will only leave you tired and stressed, so be selective with which sessions you will attend. Get a copy of the conference timetable before you leave home – you can usually download the timetable from the conference's website – and go through it and highlight sessions that you absolutely want to attend. Check for any clashes and prioritise the sessions which will give your information that you won't be able to get elsewhere. Once you've chosen your sessions, plan out your time so that you can get to each one. And don't forget – at big conferences, it can take some time to move between sessions, so make sure to leave some travel time in your plan.

2. Attending only academic events or only social events

When you're choosing the sessions to attend, it can seem sensible to focus just on the academic sessions which will give you information directly relevant to your research. Conversely, some people would much rather attend the fun social events and parties than the academic talks. But in fact, either of these approaches is a mistake. The value in a conference is in both hearing about new academic work, and getting to know fellow researchers in a social context. Therefore, you want to balance your conference program so that it includes both talks and social events to get the most from your conference experience. Consider attending 4-6 sessions during the day, then 1-2 social events in the evenings to achieve a good balance.

3. Partying too hard in the evenings

On the subject of social events, it can be tricky to navigate the social norms of conference events. Often, events will have a relaxed party vibe and may include a large amount of alcohol, sometimes even an open bar. But beware! While there's nothing wrong with having a drink or two in the evening, drinking to excess is a mistake. Not only will being too drunk make you look unprofessional, but you'll also be hungover the next morning and not get the most out of the sessions that you attend. Remember that you'll need to get up early and be productive the next day, so take it easy in the evenings and don't party too hard.

4. Not being technologically prepared for a presentation

If you're giving a talk at a conference, you've probably spent a lot of time preparing your material, making your slides, and practising your presentation. But one aspect which conference attendees often forget about presenting is the technological factor. If you're using slides, then you'll need a computer and a projector or display which is compatible. The venue should provide these things, but you need to ensure that your material is in a compatible format. There can be problems, for example, with using Microsoft Office files on a Mac computer, or in connecting a computer with only VGA outputs to a projector which only takes HDMI inputs. If you're presenting, make sure that you check whether your materials will work, preferably at least a day before your presentation. That way, if you do have problems, you have enough time to contact the technical support department or to find the adaptors which you will need. Then when you come to present, everything will be smooth and ready to go.

5. Leaving no time to explore the city the conference is held in

Finally, remember that a conference is not only an academic experience - it is also a chance for you to travel: to see new places, experience a different culture, and to learn more broadly. So try to set aside half a day or so to explore the place in which the conference is held. Conferences are often held in major cities, so there will be historical sites, tourist attractions, and restaurants and cafes for you to explore. If you can, arrive at the conference a day early or leave a day late and give yourself a bit of time to enjoy your travels as well as learning from the conference.


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