5 Ways to Sharpen In-Person Conference Skills

Even seasoned attendees are a little rusty after staying away for two years.

After two years, people are returning to conferences—the in-person kind. Indeed, 81% of industry events are expected to have an in-person element this year.

“It’s life changing to be back,” says Radhika Papandreou, Korn Ferry’s sector leader for its Travel, Hospitality and Leisure practice. Papandreou has attended five conferences this year and says she’s been energized by these opportunities to listen to live panels, ask questions, spend time with colleagues, and share ideas. “While you can only listen to one person at time during a virtual conference, during an in-person conference you meet many more people and have multiple conversations,” she says.

But experts say most people are out of practice when it comes to how to get the most out of conferences—from both a learning and networking standpoint. New public-safety measures are important to understand as well. Here are some tips:

Be aware of new protocols.

Not surprisingly, most conferences have added COVID-19 public-safety protocols, such as proof of vaccination; some still strongly encourage participants to wear masks. One big change to be mindful of: many conferences are enabling participants to signal their comfort level with personal interaction using a system of color coding: green indicates hugs are OK, yellow that elbow bumps are good, and red that it’s best to just wave hello from afar. “The whole idea is to allow participants to indicate their personal preferences and to be more comfortable attending,” Papandreou says.

Be intentional about planning your time.

If you’ve gotten used to attending virtual conferences, you probably haven’t given much thought to how to network between sessions. At an in-person conference, the fifteen-minute breaks between sessions can be the most beneficial time of all, says Joshua Daniel, a Korn Ferry Advance career coach who recently attended his first in-person conference in two years. “We often focus on who the speakers will be, but we don’t always think about what we will do to make connections, and to ensure those connections turn into relationships after the conference,” he says.

Look at the agenda and attendee list, then plan out who you want to meet with, Papandreou says: “Be deliberate rather than relying on spontaneous interactions.” For instance, consider reaching out to people before the conference to ask for a fifteen-minute meet-and-greet while you are there.

Use social media to highlight your participation.

Demonstrate your thought leadership by sharing takeaways from the conference on LinkedIn and Twitter. “If you tag people you met with or heard speak, as well as the conference and the organization that planned it, you can increase your online presence,” Daniel says. The key is to post useful nuggets from the conference, he says, not just to state that you attended the event.

Follow up when you return home.

Your conference connections shouldn’t evaporate when you return home. Follow up with anyone you met by sending an email and an invitation to connect on LinkedIn. If there is a speaker you wanted to meet but couldn’t make contact with, Daniel suggests reaching out via email or LinkedIn to discuss a point they made during their talk or to share ideas that complement their discussion topic. “Speakers are very responsive if you share ideas around the topic they presented on,” he says.

Assess your comfort level before you go.

Everyone has a different level of comfort when it comes to travel and in-person interactions. Papandreou recommends taking some time to evaluate how you feel about interacting in person and being in a crowded room with other people. “If you have any hesitancy, most conferences are still offering a hybrid option,” she says.