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How to Cultivate Your Career at Conference

Originally published: 01.01.20 by Megan Jackson


Cultivating relationships throughout a conference helps build not only your own self confidence and esteem, but also helps guide you in building up your company. 

As an extrovert trapped in the body of a wall flower, I find conferences, or any networking event challenging. So, imagine this, you find yourself for the first time walking into a large conference room, ball room, or worse yet auditorium. You check in at the front desk and receive a name tag with your name, business name and possibly even an identifier of how you fit into the mix. You find yourself clutching your badge for everything its worth hoping that it will protect you or better yet shield you from the scrutiny you are sure to receive, because let’s face it, do you really belong in this room?

I would find myself in this exact position and tried my best to not panic and to not hide against the wall watching the room around me, when I attended my first Women in HVACR Conference. I forced myself to face the room, to face the people in the room and to face the fact that whether I thought I belonged here or not my Boss


thought I did as it was his idea to send me to this conference in the first place. I had never traveled on my own, I was getting ready to walk into a situation where I knew no one and ultimately in my mind I didn’t feel like I truly belonged, since let’s face it, all I was at the time was an Office Manager. But what I ended up doing without realizing it was cultivating relationships throughout the conference that would help build not only my own self confidence and esteem but would also help guide me in building up the company I worked for.

I came to find that in the end my position didn’t determine how I was accepted, I did. In the end the conference would become my open door for the next chapter in my life, both personally and professionally. And while I don’t consider myself an expert in the navigation of the in’s and out’s of conferences and their etiquette, I did discover a few tricks & techniques that I hope will help make your experience as enjoyable and rewarding as mine was.

Let yourself be known

So, as I first entered the ballroom at my first conference I worried, like most do, will people like me? Will I be accepted? Will I be able to keep up with the other professionals around me? One of the first things I realized when it comes to conference events is that you need to let yourself be known. Whoever you are, whatever role you play within your company or industry, take pride in it. Even if you are a baby to the field and don’t have years of experience under your belt, take pride in your decision to step out into the profession. Don’t ever let your position dictate how you will be received by your peers. I went in feeling like all I was, was office personal and I came out my first year realizing that I was much more and that level of confidence that I found while attending the first conference followed me throughout the year.

Networking

Whether it’s your first year or your tenth-year networking is the name of the game. Conferences are all about cultivating new friends, contacts and expanding your business presence. The sharing of ideas, common goals and struggles helps others within the field feel less alone and assures them that they are not the only ones experiencing certain situations or troubles. Networking has the amazing ability of broadening your horizon whether it’s thru mentors who help you grow and achieve your goals, or whether its friendships that develop that can help expand your reach to broader markets within the field.

Business Cards

No matter what position you hold within a company, if you are lucky enough to attend an industry or brand conference business cards are a must. Whether supplied by your company or you print your own, business cards are a great way of passing along your contact information while collecting key information from your fellow peers. They are the calling cards by which you can reference, either conversations you wish to revisit or products you wish to try. That little slip of paper is a great way to jog your memory after the craziness that can ensue during most conference events. And once you return back home, don’t just let the cards stack up in a pile on your dresser, invest in a card holder or better yet put the information into electronic form, that way you can carry it with you anywhere you go. You never know when you might find yourself in a state stranded and that contact information could come in handy in a pinch.

To drink or not to drink 

For most conference events that take place outside of your every day work week, social drinking is not only allowed but often encouraged. It obviously becomes your choice as to whether you partake in the liquid courage that can flow quite liberally around an event. In keeping with my first point, always be yourself and if being yourself means that you wish to abstain, then do so. Don’t let the peer pressure of fitting in make you compromise your morals or standards. On the flip side, if you are the type who enjoys throwing them back with the boss and your fellows peers, then obviously feel free to take advantage of the laid-back atmosphere and enjoy yourself. Just be careful about going too far, as no one needs pictures of your table dancing to show up on the company Facebook page or at the next year’s conference “Remember when” slide slow. We all know pictures are worth 1,000 words, and some pictures just don’t need to exist.

No Fear

When I walked into my first conference, I was terrified. I found myself latching onto the first person I could find and followed them around like a puppy dog. But eventually that first person, led to another conversation, which led to another and so on. I eventually found myself working the room like a pro. It’s natural to be nervous but remember that most of the attendees are feeling the same way you do. So as mentioned, never let your position dictate your place or importance, embrace your role and own it. You don’t have to be cocky, but you can have pride and confidence to know who you are, what you can do, and that you belong. Never let fear get the best of you and keep you from reaching out to others for advice or just simply conversation. After all, the whole point of events such as these is to connect to people from all walks of life.

Learn and Listen. Ask Questions. Take notes

During my first conference I was surrounded by some truly brilliant women both in mind and spirit. I found myself picking the brain of anyone who would talk to me, asking the questions I always wondered about. Trying to figure out what made then all so successful. I wanted to know how I could one day end up like them. What I found out in the end was that we are all the same. We all have the same fears and the same reservations. I found that one’s ability to achieve greatness was not based around one’s lack of fear, but more how they conquered and controlled that fear. I listened to everyone, I took notes on every speaker and I went into every session with an open mind and an empty cup begging to be filled.

Thankfully this past September I had the pleasure of attending my second Women of HVACR conference, this year held in the Historical City of Boston. Like all industry related conferences, I had the pleasure of being surrounded by some of the most amazing Business Owners, CEO’s, Technicians, and Sales People in the industry. We talked, we laughed, we shared our accomplishments and our failures but all in the all we took this time and opportunity to find ways to learn and grow from each other. And we might have had just a little bit of fun along the way.




About Megan Jackson

Megan Jackson is the office manager for Redlaw Mechanical Inc., a community-minded air conditioning and heating maintenance and installation in Lancaster, Va. For additional information, visit redlawmechanical.com.




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