As an extrovert trapped in the body of a wallflower, I find conferences and networking events challenging.

Imagining finding yourself for the first time walking into a large conference room, ballroom, or auditorium.  You check in at the front desk and receive a name tag with your name and business name. I found myself in this exact position when I attended my first Women in HVACR Conference.  I forced myself to face the room and to remember that my boss believed I belonged there.

I had never traveled on my own, and I was getting ready to walk into a situation where I felt I didn’t belong. Still, I ended up cultivating relationships throughout the conference. I came to find that my position didn’t determine how I was accepted; I determined it.  While I don’t consider myself an expert in the navigation of conferences and their etiquette, I did discover a few tricks and techniques that will help make your experience as enjoyable and rewarding as mine was. 

Let yourself be known: Whoever you are, whatever role you play within your company or industry, take pride in it. Even if you are a baby to the field and don’t have years of experience under your belt, take pride in your decision to step out into the profession. Don’t ever let your position dictate how you will be received by your peers. 

Networking: Conferences are all about cultivating new friends, contacts, and expanding your business presence.  The sharing of ideas, common goals, and struggles helps others within the field feel less alone and assures them that they are not the only ones experiencing certain situations or troubles.  Networking has the amazing ability of broadening your horizon whether through mentors who help you grow and achieve your goals, or through friendships that develop that can help expand your reach to broader markets within the field.

Business Cards: Business cards are a must. Whether supplied by your company or yourself, business cards are a great way of passing along your contact information while collecting key information from your fellow peers.  They are the calling cards by which you can reference conversations you wish to revisit or products you wish to try.  That little slip of paper is a great way to jog your memory after the craziness that can ensue during most conference events.  And once you return back home, don’t just let the cards stack up in a pile on your dresser. Invest in a card holder or put the information into electronic form.  You never know when you might find yourself in a state stranded and that contact information could come in handy in a pinch.

To drink or not to drink: For most conference events that take place outside of your every day workweek, social drinking is often encouraged.  It becomes your choice as to whether you partake in the liquid courage that can flow quite liberally around an event.  Always be yourself and if being yourself means that you wish to abstain, then do so.  Don’t let the peer pressure of fitting in make you compromise your morals or standards. 

No Fear: It’s natural to be nervous, but remember that most of the attendees are feeling the same way.  Never let your position dictate your place or importance; embrace your role and own it. You don’t have to be cocky, but you can have pride and confidence to know who you are, what you can do, and that you belong.  Never let fear get the best of you and keep you from reaching out to others for advice or just simply conversation.

Learn and Listen.  Ask Questions.  Take notes: During my first conference I was surrounded by some truly brilliant women both in mind and spirit.  I found myself picking the brain of anyone who would talk to me, asking the questions I always wondered about.  Trying to figure out what made then all so successful.  I wanted to know how I could one day end up like them.  What I found out in the end was that we are all the same.  We all have the same fears and the same reservations.  I found that one’s ability to achieve greatness was not based around one’s lack of fear, but more how they conquered and controlled that fear.