6 Mistakes conference delegates make (and how to avoid them)

4 minute read

Research conferences are gold.

When it comes to strengthening your work, there aren’t many things that can beat them. Where else can you talk to researchers in your field, expand your social and professional network, promote yourself and discover new streams of thought? All over an exhausting exciting few days.

Conferences are your research social network, start making the most of them

You’re an expert in your particular field. Congratulations. What your next research conference gives you is the opportunity to look over the fence and see what’s going on outside your specialty. In doing this it helps you connect with people, build relationships and add value to your research and, by extension, your career.

Common mistakes people make at research conferences

But it’s not a secret that lots of people don’t get the full benefit that conferences offer. This is for a few of reasons, usually because 1) beyond presenting their research, delegates don’t realize the value of attending a conference. Therefore, 2) they don’t prepare properly for them. Or 3) they find conferences intimidating and spend coffee breaks hiding in the bathroom or glued to people they already know.

Big mistake.

What this leads to is awkward moments, missed opportunities and a lot of wasted time and energy.

Feeling anxious about an upcoming conference in your calendar? Start prepping now to avoid these 6 common mistakes and bring your A-game to your next research conference instead.

6 Conference Mistakes People Make

1. The moment you’re scanning the program for the first time and it’s already Conference Day One

The conference mistake. Let’s face it, you haven’t done your research. You’re skim reading and putting stars beside every session. Lots of the presentations aren’t even in your field, but sure who knows what you might learn. Right?
Why is it important to avoid? Are you really going to attend and take useful notes on EVERY SESSION? And still have the energy for chatting enthusiastically about your work in the breaks? Hm, didn’t think so.
How to bring your A-game instead. Figure out in advance what you want to get from the conference. Are you interested in a particular research area or theme? Create a plan for attending only the sessions related to your work. And if there are delegates you’d like to meet, drop them a line now to see if they can spare a few minutes at the event. Plan ahead and it all gets easier.


2. The moment you get trapped in an endless discussion about the weather

The conference mistake. You’re discussing local weather patterns with other delegates instead of comparing research interests. We’ve all been there.
Why is it important to avoid? Often, the most interesting moments at conferences aren’t the sessions themselves, they’re the conversations that take place outside them. Plus, the people you’re mired in meteorological chit chat with could be on your hiring committee next month or on your grant review panel next year. So make these conversations count.
How to bring your A-game instead. Be ready to get the dialogue ball rolling. Have a few questions to ask about what they’re working on right now or what they’ve found most interesting at the conference. Arm yourself with some lines and be brave.


3. The moment you miss the opportunity to speak to your research hero

The conference mistake. You’re in the same room as the most influential researcher in your field but you can’t get time with them. Maybe they’re deep in conversation with other conference delegates. Or you decided to doorstep them before or after their presentation and didn’t manage to get much beyond, “Hi…”
Why is it important to avoid? How often will you get the chance to ask this person about the implications of their findings? Or tell them how their work has influenced yours?
How to bring your A-game instead. Get in touch in advance to ask if you could grab a few minutes when it suits them. (Hint: the time when they’re preparing to give a presentation – or being mobbed after giving one – is not that time.) Then, make sure you have something of value to say. This sounds obvious, but if you’re likely to get tongue-tied, plan what you’ll say in advance. Now go get ‘em.


4. The moment you watch someone’s eyes glaze over while you explain your work in unnecessary detail

The conference mistake. Someone’s asked about your work and you’ve galloped off on a lengthy explanation of it. You’re getting the distinct impression you’ve left them at the starting gate.
Why is it important to avoid? The power of conferences lies in the chance connections they open up to you. If you can succinctly explain the main points of your work to everyone you meet it could lead to good things for your work and your career.
How to bring your A-game instead. Have your elevator pitch sharpened and ready to go. But don’t leave it at one pitch. Think about how you’d explain your work to someone who doesn’t share your area of expertise. And what details you’d want to highlight for someone who does. Be prepared and you won’t be caught off guard.


5. The moment you’re dead on your feet but you’re not even halfway through the conference program

The conference mistake. You’ve reached information overload and now your brain is melting.
Why is it important to avoid? Trying to squeeze too much into your conference experience isn’t doing yourself any favors. Your notes will be shoddy, you won’t take a whole lot in and you won’t have the energy to network your socks off.
How to bring your A-game instead. Pace yourself. Are there talks that aren’t relevant to your area of expertise? Skip them. Then use the time for reflection, note-taking or just stepping outside to get some air. Do your prep so you can stay sharp.


6. The moment you don’t follow up on your conference leads

The conference mistake. You saw some great presentations and spoke to lots of interesting folks. But now it’s a few weeks later and you’re starting to wonder, “What did I actually get out of attending that conference?”
Why is it important to avoid? Conferences are the best avenue you have to grow your circle of colleagues and be influenced by new findings in your field. If you don’t act on what you learned you’re missing a great opportunity.
How to bring your A-game instead. Conferencing means getting a LOT of information in a short period of time. So use some handy networking tips to help you seize the moment. Give yourself the space to process everything. Jot down your impressions as soon as you can and make a list of tasks based on who you met and what you learned. When you get home, start completing them.


Bringing Your A-game to Your Next Research Conference

Bring your A-game to your next conference and see the difference a bit of preparation and strategic thinking can make. You’ve got this.

Happy Conferencing.