I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one that gets a little bit apprehensive about attending events, especially large exhibitions that are set up like a gauntlet that you have to navigate through while avoiding overzealous sales people pulling you from one badly designed stand to another. Conferences, training and networking events can be equally as daunting especially when you are attending on your own and have to join in group activities and network with strangers.As I’ve said in the past training, networking and meeting suppliers should be an integral part of our career. How many other professions have such a large skill-set that needs to be kept up to date? We need to know about the latest advances in technology, we need to know where the best restaurants are and we need to constantly refresh our soft skills. So we need to attend events on a regular basis.

Attending training courses that cost money can be a difficult sell to some organisations that do not think their support staff require additional training. This in itself is a whole other topic, but let’s say you’ve got past this hurdle and you are booked on to an event! It is a day out of the office in most cases so assistants do have to make the most out of it. How do we ensure we get the most out of events when the prospect can be overwhelming?

I attended the BNC Global Event Show last week, luckily I was meeting someone there that I knew so it definitely made the experience better for me. He was speaking at the event so I watched his presentation and then we had a wonder around the exhibition together. Having attended quite a few events on my own in the past having someone there did make it easier to stop and look at the stands, enjoy the presentations, sample the food and chat with other attendees. If you would like to attend an event but don’t want to go alone then do ask a colleague along or let your HR department know about the event to see if they can arrange for a group of assistants from your company to go along together. This is also where your social media networking comes in really handy because you can let your followers on Twitter or LinkedIn know that you are going and ask to meet anyone also attending. This is a great way to meet people in person and you already know you will have a shared interest , which make it easier to chat. A final point to make is that event organisers should know that attending networking events can be challenging for some people so they should be going out of their way to make it as fun and friendly an experience as possible. If you come away from an event and didn’t feel like you were looked after by the organisers then it probably isn’t worth you going back the following year.

So you are at the event and comfortable with the proceedings, what next? Well you have to learn something! This can actually be harder than it sounds. I’ve been to quite a few conferences over the years and haven’t really come away with any new information, which is partly my fault and partly the fault of the event. There is a lot of information thrown at you during an event so it can be difficult to take away knowledge that actually sticks. So to ensure you learn something the best approach is to convert what you have heard during the day into a tangible action that you can take away with you and put into practice in your own working life. After the event review your notes and write down one action or key takeaway from each session that you can integrate into your job.

When it gets to the point where you have to speak to other people be prepared! Some people I’ve met over the years are fabulous at networking and find it very easy and normal. I’m not one of those people unfortunately so I come prepared! I have a list of networking questions in my head that I have now memorised and can whip out in case there is a loll in conversation… the questions aren’t exactly on the level of Oprah Winfrey but they get me by! An example question; to open a conversation I will ask which company someone works for, what their job is or are they working on anything in particular at the moment, have they found anything useful or interesting at the event? If you find you are struggling to get anything back from this person, move on. Life is way too short to struggle making conversation with someone that isn’t interested! Networking can be challenging but there is also so much you can get out of it so I really do recommend that you talk to a few people you’ve not met before. Push yourself and you will see how rewarding it can be.

Do prepare yourself in other ways too (not just your networking questions!) Make sure you have looked at the list of exhibitors if you are attending a trade show, for example pick out 5 suppliers you want to meet and that can genuinely help you with your job. If you are attending a soft skills training session think about your personality and how this session can help you develop your character to cope with the pressures of your current role. Before attending a conference take a look at the delegate list, is there any one you’ve met before you can say hello to? Think of a question you can ask at the end of one of the sessions so that you are pushing yourself forward and getting over any public speaking nerves. There are lots of things you can do before an event to ensure you are well prepared for the day ahead.

Lastly have fun! If you didn’t enjoy the experience why not? Was it you or was it the event itself? Remember to give constructive feedback to the organisers so that they understand the needs of assistants at such events.

I am speaking at the Office Manager & PA exhibition and conference on the 6th & 7th June at the Excel Centre in London. Please do come along and say hello! The details can be found here.

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