So … I will be spending the greater part of this week washing my hair, reading and putting together a 3-day wardrobe into my little black travel bag for yet another conference I will be attending from the 27th to the 29th of August.

Conferences are a real investment, at least for me they are. You fork out the money for it (and they are NEVER cheap), spend a lot of time planning travel and accommodation, compensate for months before hand on your work schedule and when you finally get there, despite the travel fatigue, you have to stay awake, listen, rush from one session to another, try to superhuman-ly attend parallel sessions, meet new people, shake hands and smile, get back to the hotel room in the evening, eat crackers and fall asleep while reading more abstracts, all this while keeping your fingers crossed that you gain something, anything out of this whole investment, in my case contacts and knowledge.

When I put in THAT much of time and effort into making it to a conference, I want to get the best out the whole experience. Here are some things I try to stick by :

GO PREPARED. You’ve invested so much money and time to get to the conference and it will be a shame to go unprepared. Ask yourself what you want to gain from the conference and work in that direction. Read up and jot down all your questions before getting there. When you’re there, take down notes because as amazing as you want to believe your memory to be, you will not remember everything when you get home. Have a notebook and a pencil, have all your tech devices charged and ready. Also, be mentally prepared to sit in for hours at end listening to presentations.

NETWORK. Meeting people isn’t all about making professional connections or propping up ladders to get you where you want to be. It’s good to know people in your industry/field but personally, I find it even better to get to know people for who they are. Be able to collapse your entire research/what you do down to 2-3 sentences, smile, hand out name cards and most importantly follow up after the conference. There’s always Facebook. Otherwise, dash an email and keep in touch.

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. No coffee. Carry your green tea and bottled water along. I plan to carry along mints/sweets/BoostJuice’s 6″ wonder bars in my satchel to slap me awake when the fatigue starts setting in. When I’m sleep deprived or strained, I fall ill. Immediately. All the time.

HAVE SOME FUN. You’ve gone all the way there, it would only do justice to sneak in some fun even if just a little bit. The first time I went to a week-long conference fully sponsored by the National University of Singapore, I sat in my room the whole time that I wasn’t attending talks, busy working on something or the other. On the last day there, some attendees banded and went to a few places in the city and that was it – that was all I ever got out of my 7 days at Singapore, just one evening of the city center. I’m older now so I know that you CAN go to a conference AND have fun. The conference I’m going to this time is on an island which can only mean beaches and breeze. I’ve decided to grab my best friend along with me this time and arrive a whole day earlier to explore the area. We may even take a blanket, a good book and a bottle of organic non-alcoholic Chardonnay (yes, can you believe it? My student gifted me a bottle of that stuff) to the beach and read an hour or two away.

Now off to get my reading done. Be prepared and everything will work out just fine.