What to Expect at a Creative Conference
I have just returned from another creative conference and instead of doing a recap, I decided to share what I’ve learned about creative conferences, what you can expect at your first conference, and how you can be prepared.
Creative Conferences have become a huge part of my life and in a really positive way and I firmly believe they can be a wonderful experience for you too. I have heard numerous times how people turn down an opportunity to attend a conference for three reasons: they can’t afford it, they just don’t know if it is worth it, and they just don’t know what to expect so they’d rather not take that chance. If you are worried about making the investment, once you truly understand the value you will walk away with, you won’t mind taking the time to find a way to cover the costs. If you are wondering if it is worth it, I did a blog post talking all about how conferences can make a difference for you and you can read our post 5 Reasons to Attend A Creative Conference. Finally, if you are nervous and just don’t know what to expect, I’m going to talk all about that today.
I’m going to cover all the details about creative conferences even the nitty gritty stuff.
That’s right! So let’s get started.
First day jitters.
Whether it is your first conference or tenth, everyone gets the first day of school jitters. On the first day, you walk through the doors, and you might find yourself frozen standing in front of a room full of people you may or may not know and some you stalk on social media and are their biggest fan. You may feel like you’re in high school all over again walking into the cafeteria figuring out who will let you sit with them so you don’t have to eat lunch alone. How freaked out are you right now? Am I proving your own point for you why you don’t attend “these” conferences I speak of?
How about a solution? Because YES there is a solution!
My best advice here is using the buddy system. Most conferences have Facebook groups or hashtags on Instagram before the conference so you can meet and get to know the other attendees beforehand. Utilize this by finding a roommate to stay with. Having a roommate makes a HUGE difference. For one, it allows you to really connect with one person and leave the conference with a bond that you won’t get if you didn’t share a room with someone for however many days. You don’t have to spend every waking hour with your roommate, but you two can be there to support each other and share in the nerves so you both don’t feel so alone in everything.
What if you’re just not a fan of the whole roommate bandwagon? Or really couldn’t find anyone to room with, that is okay. Reach out to other attendees and ask them to meet up with you just before the conference starts that morning, that way you can walk in and sit together and get to know each other better in person. Honestly, they will be feeling just as nervous as you are and will be so happy you spoke up to help them find a way to not feel so alone too because trust me they have been strategizing and preparing for this moment for weeks too. I have done both and they were honestly the start of amazing friendships. Which brings me to number two.
Small talk leads to big talk which leads to friendships. Especially introverts, we hate small talk. Small talk can feel awkward and uncomfortable, we never know what to say, and in all honesty we prefer to skip the small talk and jump right into the friendships and deep connection. However at these conferences sometimes the conversations are started with, well, conversation starters, the small talk stuff. The scary part? You will have to be the one to start it!
My solution is to pick two “go-to” questions to start a conversation. Some examples: “what business are you in?” “how did you get started?” “what speaker or talk are you most excited to hear?” “what has been your favorite talk so far?” “what is one thing you hope to take away from this conference?” “what goals have you set for when you get home from the conference?” These are all questions that everyone uses, but what makes YOUR questions stand out from others is how you listen. Become a genuine and kind listener because if you really take the time to listen to others you will know the questions to ask next to take the conversation further and two, nothing feels better than having someone actually take the time to listen to you and care about what you have to say, be that person.
The awkward and uncomfortable moments.
There is no denying that I am an awkward and really dorky person by nature, so I find myself in a lot of moments where I just don’t know what to do. A couple of examples of my uncomfortable moments and how I’ve learned to work through them:
- During breaks in between speakers or breakout sessions, you may find yourself just sitting there “just chilling” or standing there wondering who to approach or praying that someone please approach me. I have found it is best to handle these moments in three ways. First, take a breather and give yourself this moment to not talk to anyone, relax your mind, and just decompress for a minute or two because you will be absorbing so much during these conferences so breathers are really important. Secondly, stand up, walk around, and go to the bathroom and wash your hands, do some touch-ups. Doing this will help get the circulation flowing in your body and re-stimulate you, meaning give you more boosts of energy. Finally, get up and approach someone. In all honesty, it just takes approaching one person and from there you will feel more comfortable and confident to keep doing it. You just have to do it once and you will realize that you can do this, you got this.
- Another uncomfortable moment I have encountered multiple times during conferences is during meal times you will be sitting at a table surrounded by people who will all be talking together and sometimes you may just be sitting there awkwardly like a fly on the wall. Whether you just can’t hear the conversation going on or everyone is just talking one on one with each other, I have found myself at a table surrounded by people and the only one not in a conversation. The first few times this happened to me I felt invisible and had thoughts like, “Well great, why does this always only happen to me?” I would end up texting my mom or a friend just so I could deal with the situation or having something to do. I have since learned a few ways I can gracefully handle these moments. One, I just zone out the room and take a few moments to really just enjoy my food. I savor every bite and appreciate the food I have in front of me. I create moments where it is just me and my food and I actually really enjoy these moments. They calm my nerves and help me de-stress from a long day. Secondly, I have also learned that these awkward moments where I am sitting and feeling alone only last seconds. At first they felt like forever, but in all honestly they are over just as quickly as they started and if you just remind yourself that you are not alone by the time you prevent yourself from going down that ugly spiral, the conversations that include everyone or someone turns and reaches out to you will happen before you know it. Finally, if it bothers you that much just pop into a conversation. If you can’t hear to be a part of the conversation just kindly say that you can’t hear and you would love to listen if they could just speak a little louder for you. Or just pop into a conversation next to you and say mind if I join you or just start listening, once people see you listening to them they will start talking to you directly. People talk to those who are willing to listen, once again become the listener that people need.
I will be completely honest with you here, if you don’t like being vulnerable it will be really hard to build connection and friendships during these conferences. People attend these conferences to find a community and tribe of friends who understand them, who can make them feel like they belong, and people who can help them grow. Connection requires vulnerability, to be open and share parts of you that are your struggles and hardships. I absolutely love vulnerability and the path it creates for stronger more meaningful relationships; because I know the beauty in vulnerability, I no longer struggle with being vulnerable and sharing those parts of me because I know what will grow from those moments. However, I do understand not everyone is at the same level of comfort I am. That is why it can be hard for some people in this environment. My solution here is to know the level that you are comfortable with sharing and the level when you feel too exposed. That way you can be open and share, but not to the point where you feel like crawling into bed. Another way to take a step towards vulnerability is reassuring yourself why this is important to you and how opening yourself up can help you and the other women around you. In order to take away some of your pain it helps knowing that others share in your struggles and sometimes they can help and guide you and other times they can just be there to encourage you, but they can’t do this for you if you don’t open up and share with them what’s in your heart. Finally, you can’t expect others to open up to you and share a deep connection with you if you aren’t willing to do the same for them. People can sense walls and they won’t be willing to put down theirs if they feel all they are hitting with their vulnerability is another wall.
Every conference has talks that don’t really resonate with you or don’t feel relevant to your industry. What do you do then?
The cliché thing to say would be that every speech has something to take away from, but in the moment you might be feeling some resistance and turning your head away slightly annoyed. (i.e. a service based talk and you are product business or vice versa or a service/product based talk and you are a blogger.) Here are some ways you can refocus and maximize every speech:
- First, take a moment to analyze your current business and what the talk is about. Now ask yourself, could this be what my ideal client (or customer/reader) needs? Could my ideal client benefit from this? Your business is meant to give you purpose, but it is meant to serve your client. You are at the conference for you to grow and to make your business more successful, but you are also there to represent your ideal client and how you can better serve them. Let me give you a specific example so you can see best how to really dive deep and find a way to make the pieces of the puzzle work for you. A speech about running a service based business offers a tip about giving your client a gift basket to say thank you for being your client, but you are a product-based business. You can still take tidbits of what they put in their baskets, how they write their notes, or how they execute the process. With these tidbits, you can integrate them and turn them into how you package your products, thank your customers, or if you ever do a collaboration or custom design you can use as a way to thank people who help support your business.
- Secondly, you may feel it isn’t relevant to your business right now, but you may or may not know where your business will be in the next few years. You may even have a completely different business. Take notes and think about the knowledge being presented right in front of you and how it can be utilized in the future. You may be a blogger now, but you may be a future shop owner, write your own book, or offer education to other future bloggers on how they can be successful. Think about the speech and its relevance in terms of how can you use it to add a new part to your business you didn’t think of before.
- Finally, if the speech feels completely off topic for you, still be a sponge and absorb it all up because this information could be helpful for a friend or someone else you know. Someone, later on, will be consulting you for advice and you can be the messenger in sharing this knowledge. You can still pass it on to help benefit others. There have been multiple times where I heard something in a speech and immediately texted a friend who shared with me a struggle and this was the perfect solution for her. These conferences are a great reminder that you are here to help build and lift other women up. Sitting in resistance can easily be replaced by sitting here to learn how to help support other women when you didn’t know how to before. It is a great feeling to know that you can be there in service of others just as much for yourself.
Conferences are not perfect, you are not perfect and there will be moments where you are thinking am I doing this right? I wouldn’t say conferences are what you make of them, but I will say the more effort you put into it, the more you will get out of them. I hope these tips give you a realistic idea of what you can expect from these conferences and help prepare you to really get the most out of a future conference and leave feeling as full and loved as I have.
These conferences truly have a lot to offer and can fill your heart up.
If you have any questions or want to share your own conference experience, I would love to hear from you. You can contact me via the contact page or comment below. Your information and experience can make a difference for others.