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Conference etiquette

There is a lot to be gained from attending a conference, and it’s not just knowledge from the information that is being shared. There is also a wealth of networking opportunities; the chance to talk to bosses or managers in a more causal setting, meeting new peers, mentors or potential clients and in some cases you might be able to get up and speak to an audience. There is even the chance to travel to a new area to attend, and with the beautiful conference venues in Victoria you won’t be disappointed with the location.

However, you can also mess up at a conference and become the subject of discussion for all of the wrong reasons. No one wants to be ‘that person’, so brush up on your etiquette before heading off to the conference venue so that you can be remembered and stand out for all the right reasons.

For attendees:

  1. Dress appropriately

If this is a company conference, you will likely be provided with a dress code. For a business retreat, especially one that involves an overnight stay at the conference venue, you will most likely be advised to dress more casual than your normal business attire. However, this doesn’t usually mean you can turn up in tracksuit pants and ugg boots. You will still be mingling with peers and bosses so you will want to give off a professional vibe, even if it is a casual conference.

For third-party conferences that you have bought a ticket to, it is worth remembering that what you wear is always a reflection of who you are. Wearing clothing that is inappropriate for the event you are attending will give a bad first impression to people who might be prospective clients or employers.

  1. Respect the speaker

When someone has taken the stage to share their knowledge with the audience it is only fair to show them respect by not talking throughout their presentation. It can be really unnerving to be up on stage and hear murmuring throughout the crowd. It is also disturbing for the people who are seated around you.

When the speaker asks for questions at the end of the presentation there is an etiquette required there too. Ask questions, but don’t try to delve into the topic so much that you are essentially trying to wrangle a free consultation out of them. Also, it is fine to disagree with a point they have made, but there is a constructive way of getting your opinion across without sparking up an argument in front of a room full of people. If you wish to speak to the presenter further you are welcome to approach them once they have left the stage, but understand that they may have a tight schedule and might have somewhere else they need to be.

  1. Phone on silent

Further to the point of not talking throughout the speech, you should also have your phone on silent. A ringtone or message beep can be really disruptive to the flow of thought for the speaker. If you really must answer a call, take your phone and slip out of the room as quietly as possible. Don’t answer until you have left the room, as strolling to the back of the auditorium while talking on the phone is just as disruptive as taking the call at your table.

  1. Network – but don’t harass

Conferences are great for networking; move through the room to meet new people, get new leads and have conversations that could end up furthering your career. It is a good idea to ensure you have your elevator pitch ready to go.

But don’t come across as a pushy person who is only out to help themselves or you’ll have people running the other way to avoid you. Don’t throw your business card into the faces of everyone you see before you even introduce yourself and most certainly don’t take people’s information from their business card and add them to your email database. It is not only rude to do this, but it is also illegal to sign people up without them opting in.

For speakers:

It is an honour to be invited to speak at a conference; even more so if you are paid to do it. There are ways you can make sure you are invited back to speak again, and that is to have some etiquette:

  1. Stick to your allocated time

If you are allotted a specific amount of time, don’t run over. The organisers of the conference have put a lot of work into the scheduling of the conference – working out how to fit every presentation in and ensuring the day flows smoothly. If speakers go over their timeslot they can throw the entire day off schedule. This is rude to both the conference organisers and also to the speakers who are on stage after you.

  1. Don’t make it a sales pitch

Unless stated otherwise by the organiser, it is likely that you have not been invited to speak at a conference purely to make a sales pitch to the audience. By all means mention your company or products, weave them in and out of your stories and leave behind more information, but don’t turn your allocated time into an awkward hard sell.

  1. Count your drinks

There’s an open bar at the conference? Great! Just don’t hit it before you do your speech. Nothing screams ‘unprofessional’ more than a sloppy presenter who has clearly made use of the free drinks.

If you are socialising at the conference the night before your presentation, be sure to set an alarm so that you can get up, showered and fed well before your scheduled time on stage. Don’t rock up to the conference half an hour late for your talk, smelling of booze and wearing yesterday’s clothes – no matter how good your presentation is, the messy impression is the one that will stick.

  1. Don’t read directly from your presentation

Using your PowerPoint slides as a point of reference during your talk is perfectly acceptable. However, the line must be drawn at reading out every single word to a room of people. The audience isn’t stupid, they aren’t there to be read to, so make sure you give them a proper talk in your own words instead of dictating a presentation.