Young Professionals: 7 Boss Moves to Make Before Attending Any Conference

A smart leader's guide to maximizing your experience

(Image: Thinkstock)
(Image: Thinkstock)

I know… I know. I haven’t written a boss moves My Two Cents blog in a while.

Forgive me. I’ve been so busy with my latest career endeavors—and the bit of personal life I have left—while continuing to climb, that I haven’t had the time to blog.

However, I couldn’t help but take a few minutes during my time at The National Black MBA Association Inc.‘s phenomenal 36th Annual Conference and Exposition in Atlanta to share boss moves insights for all my fellow millennial leaders. This is my first time at a conference of this magnitude at my current career level, and I must say it’s been a major learning experience for me.

As a young professional, I’m past the stage of just graduating and looking for that first job, but I’m not past the stage of learning to improve in terms of networking, attending conferences and being more in the forefront when it comes to my career advancement strategy.

I still get butterflies when meeting people of stature in their industries, who have much more educational and professional experience than me. (I haven’t yet pursued an MBA, and I certainly don’t have years of corporate experience under my belt like many of the honorees and attendees.)

I still get nervous navigating a different city, and I still obsess over how to look (from whether my hair is “too big,” my makeup is Team Too Much, my skirt is too tight or my heels are too high).

I still cringe at the thought of forced conversations and smiles or the inevitable cliche ice-breaker question: So what do you do?

Hey, I’m human, and the key is to never wear these fears or insecurities on my sleeve and to walk with confidence, an open mind and an eagerness to learn. This conference, though I’m here to cover, has been quite the venue to glean from and network with the top of the top, and relate to other stellar millennials who are achievers and future bosses in their own right.

So, the next time you decide to attend a professional conference to further your base of knowledge and expand your contacts, don’t leave your house without making these seven boss moves:

1. Add an hour to whatever prep time you have in mind each day. There’s that common saying that the early bird gets the worm, but also, it gets the most peace of mind. It’s great to just get into the habit of waking up early, get breakfast or a workout in (some conferences even include these two activities) and jump-start your day earlier than you typically would. It’s never a good feeling to be rushing from session to session or missing out because you didn’t allow extra time to truly enjoy the events. Think of attending a conference as you would any other work day, where you set your alarm keeping in mind things like getting dressed, delays, getting lost or changes in schedule.

2. Scope out the location for yourself if you can or find a layout before leaving. Oftentimes organizations will advertise the location of a conference months in advance, so why not, if you’re already travelling, go visit the venue for yourself before registering? If you can’t do that, Google it and look up logistics in terms of how large it is, how far it’s located from attractions, food and lodging, and plan accordingly. Most major conference venues and resorts have floor plans, virtual tours and other information readily available online, and a customer service rep can often help with questions as well.

3. Go on social or search the Web to find out what’s in store from people who have already attended. Smart organizations who seek to boost attendance and exposure for their events use hashtags on social media. The National Black MBA Association Inc.‘s hashtag is #NBMBAA14. Check it out. It’s a great way to see the excitement, find out career and leadership insights, and track who’s attending, and should provide more than enough reason for you to register to attend next year. You can also connect with current and past participants, panelists, experts and organizers to get more of an inside scoop on events and how best to plan for them.

4. Be sure to look chic but comfortable and professional. The dress code for a conference can depend on the organization culture, nature of industry or your goal for attending, so be sure to pack appropriate attire for the activities in store. For some events, the various meeting rooms could all be at one venue or spread out across a specific campus or neighborhood, so be aware of that when prepping your look. Also, keep in mind who you might meet and what you’d like to reflect via your look, whether it’s wearing a suit, a casual chic ensemble or your company branding and sneakers.

5. Bring a buddy. Some companies sponsor their employees who attend events, so you may already have buddies to travel with, but if you don’t, make it a point to schedule a trip with like-minded friends who seek career advancement as well. It’s great to be able to share insights, tag team to attend sessions held at times that overlap, and encourage or pitch one another when it comes to prospective employers or contacts. It’s great to be able to share Hangover-like adventures with your college bestie, but add a little strategic networking to those experiences as well.

6. Practice your elevator pitch, whether you’re an employee, entrepreneur, or both. I’m a young woman still growing out of that rebellious fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants attitude, and it’s never a good look to meet a major power player and flop at the precise moment you’re given an opportunity to shine. Practice your elevator pitch, whether it’s your 10-second introduction of who you are and what you represent or a 5-minute brief on your talents or services your company offers. One young man attending the NBMBAA conference got the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to not only pitch himself to one of the most powerful businessmen in America, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, he got a verbal assurance from the NBA legend to follow up. All of this came because he was professional and bold in his pitch and he was ready for his moment.

7. Manage your expectations and come with a clear goal. Many conferences are full of activities, where there may be lots to do, many to talk to and even more to learn. Be very clear on why you’re attending and your end goal. Also, know that you can’t be all to all and be everywhere at once. Some experiences you have to pace and leave goals and objectives for next year. Don’t overwhelm yourself trying too hard or doing too much.

These seven steps helped me tremendously and I’ll be doing them each time I plan to attend a professional conference or event. When making boss moves, especially when they involve cash and time capital, you want to be able to leverage your opportunities in the best way possible—with as little stress and second-guessing as possible.

How do you prep for attending conferences? Share your insights below or #SoundOff on Twitter and follow me @JPHazelwood.

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