Conferences and events can take their toll on our minds, bodies and spirits. Long hours on your feet, long days indoors, and infrequent meals - they can be a slog if you don’t approach them right.
The Rapiergroup team attend hundreds of events every year, and we have found a way to make them not just bearable, but enjoyable.
Don’t let this events season be a drag. Here’s our event survival kit so that you can remain healthy and happy.
Picking the right event
As the saying goes, time flies when you’re having fun. That truism applies in the event space more than others. When you’re busy, when you’re meeting new, relevant people, time slips by almost unnoticed.
But events season will quickly become a dispiriting experience when you’re repeatedly marooned at irrelevant events. As the boredom sets in, the “recirculated-air, climate-controlled and often windowless rooms” of a conference centre becomes particularly oppressive.
You could easily attend one event a week. But it’s not so much about attending events, as it is about attending the right events.
Manage your schedule
The lecturer and author Robert Pozen makes the point that you shouldn’t think about how many breaks you should take. The real question, according to Pozen, is “what is the appropriate time period of concentrated work you can do before taking a break?”
The answer seems to be somewhere between 75 and 90 minutes. Breaks are a chance for renewal, allowing us to return to work with energy and concentration. Human beings aren’t meant to operate like computers, continuously and at high speeds.
You need to take breaks when working, and that necessity doesn’t end when you’re at events. And don’t just see a break as a reason to sit down or browse your phone. Take a walk, go outside. Even a 5-minute walk has been shown to improve our moods and concentration.
Avoid the meal deal
You need to get your nutrition right for a full day of feeling good. It’s easy, once the event adrenaline kicks in, to let food slip down the list of priorities.
But this is a big mistake. If you eat badly, or worse don’t eat at all, you’ll feel terrible, your concentration will suffer and you’ll stop enjoying yourself. Food is fuel. If nothing else, that’s the lens through which you need to view eating.
You can’t achieve your goals on an empty stomach. And it starts at breakfast. You wake up on event day, immediately check your phone and suddenly the panic sets in. There’s no time for breakfast. But that’s a mistake.
Research shows that breakfast, as the first meal of the day, plays an important role in supplying energy and nutrients, which are critical to working and learning activities.
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to healthy, quick breakfast choices. Eggs on toast with a portion of fruit and a glass of water are a relatively quick, very healthy alternative to a fried breakfast or a mountain of buttery pastries.
The emphasis on nutrition doesn’t end once you arrive. Conference food is often terrible and filled with carbohydrates (because carbs are cheap). And events have a habit of providing a constant stream of snacks and nibbles, leading us to eat all day rather than making time for proper meals.
Avoid that trap. Head outside the event for food. That walk to outside to get a salad also helps you stretch your legs. And bring healthy choices with you: from nuts and seeds to fruit or a protein bar, these items are easy to slip into a bag and carry around the conference (and you can nibble on them at talks).
And finally: hydrate. Whether you choose ordinary tap water or water with added electrolytes, you’ll avoid the effects of dehydration, which can be ruinous for your focus.
Dress to impress
A big part of dressing to impress is you being comfortable and smelling fresh. When you feel comfortable and clean, you're likely to be more awake and focused.
What you wear to an event isn’t always up to you. You may need to wear a uniform of some variety. But in the often stuffy environs of a conference centre, the material you use for the uniform becomes crucial. Why not switch those sweat-inducing man-made fibre tops for some stylish bamboo polo shirts?
But perhaps your primary consideration should be shoes. An event takes a lot out of your feet, so your shoes need both form and function. You can’t wear Crocs, for instance, but similarly you should avoid stylish but uncomfortable footwear.
It doesn’t need to be difficult: just get a slight upgrade of your current go-to pair of shoes. If you wear trainers, invest a nice pair of leather-sided ones, for example, and then you can satisfy both the style and comfort departments.
How to make the most of the post-event drinks party
Here’s something you might not realise: meeting new people makes you happier. For the shy among us, that might seem an unintuitive idea, but research illustrates how meeting strangers brings out our best selves.
We put aside our crankiness and perk up around those we don’t know. So don’t just see networking as a necessary evil or avoid the post-event drinks party altogether: it’s actually a net benefit to our happiness.
So first things first: take a deep breath, keep your phone in your bag and scan the room. Look for what Ivan Misner calls ‘open twos and threes’. These are conversations that literally have an opening that you can easily slip into.
When we meet new people our nonverbal cues are crucial. A firm handshake gives you instant credibility, while a weak handshake will make you appear fragile. And standing up straight with a relaxed posture will make you seem comfortable.
The art of conversation isn’t just initiating, it’s ending it, too. Ending an interaction gracefully is crucial at events. The academic Kio Stark suggests doing it in increments, slowly moving out of “the interaction zone” before excusing yourself.
Your interlocutor should pick up your cues, but if not, a polite thank you and goodbye will suffice.
Events should be fun
Here’s the thing to remember: conferences and events should be fun. And you don’t have to feel like rubbish afterwards.
If this isn’t the case, then it’s time to change your approach. A successful event begins and ends with taking good care of yourself. Take breaks, hydrate, eat well, meet some new people - and, voila, it becomes a different experience altogether.