Before you pack your bags, consider these conference etiquette tips from Colleen A. Rickenbacher (www.colleenrickenbacher.com), a expert who counts FedEx, Microsoft and Marriott employees among her clients.
Make the most of the opening reception:
• Do your homework before you go: Who would you like to meet or see over the next few days? Highlight their names in the welcome packet.
• Fend off hunger with a light snack, like a smoothie, before the reception. “Networking is the time to meet and greet, which can be difficult when you’re carrying a drink and a plate,” says Rickenbacher.
• Approach another individual or small group if you went alone. It’s harder to break into a large group and start a one-on-one conversation, she says.
• Move around the room. When you meet someone, introduce yourself, exchange business cards, talk, shake hands as you leave, and then move on to the next person.
Keep the focus on learning during sessions:
• Go to the sessions prepared with notebook paper and pens, just in case.
• Arrive early and sit in the front. Don’t take up two or three seats. Tip: Take a seat next to someone, introduce yourself and enjoy the person’s company before the speaker begins.
• Politely tell a chatty attendee that you would love to talk after the session. “Tell the person right at the beginning of the conversation,” Rickenbacher says. “If you wait too long to say something, you can get hooked into the conversation, and it will be more uncomfortable to get out.”
Know the rules of for a final-night closing gala:
• Get up and move around the table to introduce yourself. Don’t reach over the table to shake hands.
• Use the code “BMW” to remember which pieces of the table setting belong to you. It means Bread-and-Butter plate is on the left; Meal is in the middle; and Water (and all drinks) is on the right. What if someone takes your bread-and-butter or salad plate? Ask the waitstaff for another plate, or place the bread on your entrée plate, or don’t eat any bread or salad.
• When you sit down, immediately take your napkin and place it on your lap.
• Do not eat until everyone at your table is served. If you are waiting for a special meal, let everyone know it’s OK to start eating.