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Attending Your First Conference as a Freelancer: What to Do

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Conferences are a great way to meet other freelancers in your field, learn about your freelance industry, and pick up valuable tips for your particular freelance career.

But if you’re new to conferences, they can also be overwhelming.

Attending your first conference as a freelancer is different from attending a conference as an employee.

As a freelancer who’s your own boss, you never have to attend a conference you don’t want to attend. You and you alone get to choose which conferences you go to and which you don’t. As a freelancer you’ll be totally on your own, though, so it can be a bit tougher than being sent to a conference as an employee. You don’t have anyone to give you any conference tips or guidance on specifically which seminars to attend or who to try to meet.

First-time conference attendees often make the mistake of not planning before the conference. Good planning is what sets apart the experienced conference attendees from the first-timers.

Read through these important conference tips so your first conference as a freelancer will be a success.

Freelance conference attendees raising their hands at a conference

Do your research

Before you attend a conference as a freelancer, it’s essential to do independent research. You don’t have an employer who’ll be giving you the details of what will be happening, so you’ll have to find out yourself. In order to make the most of the event and feel comfortable there, you will want to know a few things.

Find out who the organizers and speakers are

Some look at conferences as just a way to get away from the office and go on a paid vacation. However, a conference can give you valuable information that may be instrumental to your freelance success.

This is why it is important to take note of the keynote and technical talks that may be relevant to you and you and your freelance business as well as the conference organizers.

This will save you a lot of time once the conference begins. Rather than going around trying to find the right hall or talk to attend, you already have it all planned out.

Know where exactly the conference is being held

Aside from the basic information about the topics and speakers to be presented, don’t forget to take note of the conference venue. If you can get the hotels on a vacation trip mixed up, what will happen when you’re focused more on a conference than on planning your trip? So make sure that you know where exactly the conference is being held.

If your conference is being held on one of the virtual conference platforms, you’ll still need to go through a virtual conference registration in order to attend. There may also be a conference app for you to download.

Online as well as in-person conferences also may have breakout rooms. In-person conferences might have other venues outside of the main venue as well. Make sure to take note of this so you don’t waste time when you’re there or end up looking lost.

Check your food options

If you have a restricted diet, be sure to look into the food options available. If you want this to be a memorable and connected conference, you wouldn’t want to be walking around hungry or rushing to find the nearest restroom.

Research accommodations

When you attend conferences as a freelancer, you’ll need to book your own accommodations. Hotels, Airbnb’s and are common options. Don’t forget VRBO too.

Make sure you book your accommodation near enough the conference venue to get there easily and quickly by walking. You don’t want to waste time waiting for a bus or getting stuck in traffic.

If you’re attending an out-of-town conference, do some research to find out what else is in the area besides the conference venue. You can have an even more enjoyable experience by taking a little time to do or do something interesting in the area.

What to bring to your first conference

The things that you as a freelancer need to bring to your conference should also be well thought out. So here are the basics that you should always bring to a work conference.

Laptop or Tablet – At a conference, you’ll definitely need a device aside from your phone on which you can take notes. Having a laptop or tablet with you is also important in case you meet someone who would like to exchange files with you or if you’re invited to a brainstorming session. You don’t want to be typing on your phone when everyone else has a more professional setup.

Stationery – It’s also a good idea to have a notebook with you as well as some pens or pencils. This way you’ll have a backup in case your battery runs out or you don’t feel like carrying your laptop or tablet with you everywhere you go.

Smart casual attire – Most conference goers would prefer to walk around the venue in something easy yet still business like. Pack a few button-down tops or nice blouses. A light blazer or sweater will also be great to keep you warm in those big conference halls.

Formal attire – Conferences organize social events after the whole conference or after every day of the conference. This is a staple in the conference environment. Aside from learning from the best in the field, socializing is also a huge part and where most of the attendees begin conversations that can build new bridges. So bring a dressy outfit or two to make your best impression at the conference’s social events.

On the day of your first conference

Once you have everything planned out and packed, the first day of the conference is close. Since this is your first time at a conference, don’t be surprised by the environment. It may differ from one conference to another. Be assured, though, it’s going to be amazing.

People are trying to check into their hotel, attendees are getting lost and some are missing their luggage. All of this is normal, so if it happens to you, just relax and don’t worry. You’re not the only one.

Other than that, here are some things you must do at your first conference.

Man making a presentation to a small group of freelancers at a conference

Attend technical presentations related to your field

Technical presentations are a great way for freelancers to stay up to date on the latest developments in your field. Whether you’re a freelance software engineer, web developer, or hardware engineer, attending technical presentations can help you stay ahead of the curve.

Not only will you be able to learn about new technologies and trends, but you’ll also be able to network with other professionals in your field. Many technical conferences also offer workshops and seminars, providing you with hands-on experience with new technologies.

Support students presenting research

Today, students are often required to present their research at conferences and other events. This can be daunting, as students may not have had much experience presenting to large groups of people. It’s important as a representative of your company to support their research by attending their presentations like the national science foundation division.

This is because these students may be the future of your field and, in effect, your company. If your company has an intern program, this would also be a great way to find students to recruit into your company’s program.

Connect with the other conference attendees

There are many ways you can communicate with your fellow freelancer attendees, including using the conference app, social media channels and hashtags. This can be a great way to meet people who are also excited about this particular event.

Some conference organizers have their own hashtags that in-person conference attendees are encouraged to use on Twitter and other social media platforms so they can easily find each other and connect in person at the conference itself. To find out if your conference has a specific hashtag, check out its website or just ask someone who is attending.

Avoid distractions during presentations

If you’re in a presentation and hear someone talking on their phone, don’t let them distract you. Just ignore them and focus on the speaker. If they’re really disruptive, you may want to ask them if they’ll go outside or get off the phone.

If you yourself are giving a presentation, try to keep your slides simple and uncluttered. This will help people focus on what’s being said rather than trying to figure out what everything means. Try using pictures instead of text or words whenever possible because they’re easier to understand than words alone.

Conclusion

Attending a conference as a freelancer can be a great experience. If you do your research, set goals for yourself beforehand and connect with fellow attendees, you’ll have a successful and fun event. Give yourself as good an experience as possible by making sure to be present and focusing on enjoying the conference environment. This may be your first conference, but it won’t be your last!

Want to learn more tips you can use as a freelancer? Take my free online course here.

Images by Jaime Lopes  and Matthew Osborn

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