How To

May 27, 2024

How to survive event season

Sifted editor Amy Lewin shares her top tips for getting through a fun — but often stressful — event season

From now until July, Sifted reporters are going to be scattered across Europe attending and speaking at various tech events — along with plenty of Startup Life readers, we’re sure.

So, to help us all survive and thrive this event season, we thought there was no one better to ask than Sifted editor Amy Lewin for advice on how she gets the most out of conferences.

See below for her top tips.

Plan a bit (but not too much) in advance

Typically, people go to conferences to learn and to meet other people. Check out who the speakers are and what panels they’re on and make a rough plan of which discussions you’d like to see. If you know a particular person is going to be there whom you’d like to meet, drop them a LinkedIn message or email (if you have it) before you go and arrange a time to chat. Get their WhatsApp number if you can; it’ll be easier to find them on the day — and easier to follow up afterwards.

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Be careful not to overbook yourself though — leave some space for serendipity. Often the best conversations happen by having a chat in a coffee queue, rather than packing out your schedule with meetings that, on the day, you may not want to do.

Prepare your team

If you’re at an event, it’s usually pretty full on — so, if you can, clear your diary and tell your team you will be out of office for the day, or will at least be slow to respond to Slack messages. Make sure you’ve handed over any urgent tasks to your colleagues to prevent them from chasing you while you’re at the event.

Also, stick an out of office message on your email to remind people that you will get back to them at a later time. This helps to take the mental stress out of the day and will prevent you from checking Slack and email constantly for updates.

Network smartly

Yes, networking can sometimes be tiring and a bit cringe — but we all know it’s necessary. A great way to slide into conversations is just by chatting with people who seem friendly in a coffee queue or at a lunch stand. As conversation starters, I typically ask them what they’re hoping to get out of the conference, where they’ve travelled from and whether they’re a founder, investor or something else.

Also, if you see someone who you thought was awesome on stage, you can say hello to them and compliment them on their session. Prepare to have a few excuses ready to get out of conversations if you need to — whether it’s “this salad is really yummy, I’m just going to get some more,” or, “I’m just going to go and grab that person as I haven’t said hi yet.”

Be up front about why you’re there

If you're attending a conference for a particular reason — maybe you’re fundraising, or you need to hire, or you’re really struggling with x,y,z problem — bring that up in conversation. You never know, the person you’re talking to might say “Oh my god, I went through exactly the same thing, let me put you in touch with so and so”. It's good to be fairly upfront about who you are, what your challenges or goals are, and what you want to do next. It's like planting a lot of seeds and, hopefully, some of them will take root and be useful.

Attend side events

Sometimes, the best networking happens at breakfasts or dinners that have been independently organised. Throughout the day, ask people you meet which events they are going to and try to go along too. It might mean nabbing an invite, so try to speak to the organiser of the event and tell them why you’d really love to attend.

Manage your energy levels

Some people love events as they get a lot of energy out of speaking to others. For those who may be more introverted, constant networking can be tough. Don’t be afraid to sit in sessions on your own and quietly listen, or catch up on emails if that’s what you need to recharge your battery. Or, get out of the event space entirely and go for a walk. If you’re heading to an event in the evening, it’s often nice to head back to the hotel after your time at the conference to have a few moments to decompress.

Not cramming stuff in, as we mentioned earlier, is key to not ending up drained on the first day of a conference. And, don’t forget to fuel yourself throughout the day (no skipping lunch!).

Be sensible with travel times

We all need our sleep. If you can help it, try to plan your trip so that you don’t have to travel through the night or wake up at the crack of dawn, as then you’re starting what could be a multi-day conference on the wrong foot. If your schedule allows, try to have a slower day after you return home too to give yourself a chance to recharge,  reflect on what you learned during the conference and follow up with all your new contacts.

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Don’t be disappointed

Sometimes, you go to an event and you realise it’s not what you thought it would be, or the people aren’t who you thought they would be, or that you didn’t get as much out of it as you had anticipated. But don't be disheartened. Brush it off; there’s no point in trying to get blood out of a stone. Reflect on if there’s anything you could do differently next time. Hopefully, the next conference you go to will be more fruitful.

Wear a colourful outfit

Conferences are often a lot of guys in suits or branded hoodies, so — if you feel like it — pick an outfit that makes you stand out and be visible across the room. It’ll make it easier for your coffee dates to find you — and for you to stick in new contacts’ minds!

On the subject of… event season

1. Get the most out of tech events (as an introvert). Here’s how to prepare for attending buzzy tech events as someone who can become drained from extensive interaction with other people.

2. How to moderate a great panel. If you’re nervous about leading a panel discussion, check out these tips. A great moderator knows how to work the room and encourage lively debate among panelists.

3. Doing a keynote speech at an event? Here’s some advice.

Miriam Partington

Miriam Partington is a reporter at Sifted. She covers the DACH region and the future of work, and coauthors Startup Life , a weekly newsletter on what it takes to build a startup. Follow her on X and LinkedIn