Although you will most likely be on the younger side, conference hosts work hard to make the speeches not only entertaining, but relevant to their audience as well.

When you hear the word “conference,” you probably picture hoards of middle-aged stiffs in business suits sipping bad coffee and engaging in polite conversation more mind numbing than an econ lecture.

As a somewhat experienced conference-goer, I’m here to tell you that this couldn’t be further from the truth (yes, even the coffee was good). Although you will most likely be on the younger side, conference hosts work hard to make the speeches not only entertaining, but relevant to their audience as well. Also, if legal, there’s a good chance there will be copious amounts of alcohol involved.

So, instead of dreading your first conference and allowing visions of seven AM wake-up calls to permeate your perspective, stick to these 5 tips and get the most out of this experience (even if you are hanging with people your parents’ age):

1. Don’t Forget The Essentials.

I say this first because without the basics, you’ll spend your first conference sticking out like a sore thumb in your frat daddy outfit expecting everyone to commit your name and contact information to memory. Avoid looking like the rookie that you are and bring a hefty stack of business cards, appropriate dress, a nice, firm handshake and the technology required (if any).

2. Have An Answer To The “What Do You Do?” Question.

Because every person you meet will ask you this. Instead of blurting “uh, I use Photoshop sometimes and make cool things on it,” spend ten minutes contextualizing who you and and what you do for a living beforehand. Memorization or some grandiose speech isn’t necessary, but having a 30-second snapshot loosely prepared will make a case for your professionalism and help you to avoid an awkward moment (or 100).

3. Set Networking Goals.

If the lunchtime keynote strikes a chord with you on the first day, make it a point to have coffee with them before the conference ends. Go through the program, read each speaker bio and introduce yourself to your five favorites. Putting yourself out there and connecting with like-minded people will leave you with usable, interesting connections you’ll actually want to follow-up with come Monday.

4. Schedule Your Time Wisely.

Oftentimes, conferences can have more than one event going on at a time. That means it’s your job to attend every session that interests you (think of it like a career fair). Clearly defining your intentions pre-conference and noting the events most relevant to your career goals will ensure an impactful experience.

5. Don’t Take Everything So Seriously.

I get that all of the business professionals touting six-figure salaries and CEO titles can be intimidating. Especially when you still have “babysitter” on your resume and are donning a business suit that you bought two hours prior. But remember, they are people with families, weaknesses and shortcomings too. Just because this is a “professional” event doesn’t mean perfection is expected of you. Be genuine, interested and engaging and you’re golden.

Attending any particular conference this weekend (hint, hint)…? Share your first-time conference experience come Monday below!

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Posted 11.14.2014 - 03:00 pm EDT