A Guide To Attending Social Functions At Conferences
Social functions are often the fun part of attending a conference, but they can be stressful in their own way too. Here's a guide to ease you into the essential points of attending a conference social function. For a look at all upcoming conferences where you can put these strategies into action check our listings here
One thing that you can do to help yourself feel more comfortable at social events is to plan out your outfits in advance so that you won't feel out of place when you arrive at an event. Generally, the dress code for social functions is slightly more casual than the dress code for the actual conference but still fairly smart. You don't need to wear a suit, but you should stay away from trendy pieces or anything too tight or revealing. Think more of what you'd wear to brunch with your parents rather than party clothes.
The art of professional socialising
Like the dress code, the social atmosphere at these events is also more casual than it is during daytime sessions, but it is still a work event. It's tough to find the balance between being relaxed, open, and easy to talk to, while still remaining professional. It's absolutely fine to talk about yourself, your hobbies, or non-work topics at these events, but stay away from topics like drinking, partying, or sex. Also, avoid talking negatively about other people in your field. Even if your supervisor is driving you nuts or you think one of the speakers at the conference was dreadful, and even if the person you're chatting with is talking negatively about someone else, avoid broaching this topic. Academia is a small world and you never know who might know the person you're talking badly about.
Topics to chat about
If this sounds hard to navigate, don't despair. There are plenty of safe topics you can chat about while still being yourself and being professional. Obvious topics of conversation would be talking about your conference experience so far, such as what you thought about the keynote speakers or asking someone what the most interesting or original talk they've heard at the conference was. You can also talk about where the conference was held last year and how that was.
But you needn't only talk about work. You can also find lots of topics of conversation regarding things like the food you've tried so far, places you've visited in the area, whether you know anyone who lives or works nearby.
Do eat; don't drink too much
One type of event to be careful at is the very typical drinks reception. It's common for journals, groups, or sponsors to organise a drinks reception for conference goers that starts in the early evening, and these events can be a great way to relax and meet people after a busy day at the conference.
The reason you need to be careful is that there is usually plenty of alcohol at these events, and not much in the way of food. It's very easy to get more drunk than you mean to when you haven't eaten, especially when the only food available is small nibbles. If you want to attend an event like this, then try to either eat something first, or avoid drinking while you're there.
Talk to new people
The whole point of a social event is to get to know people in a more informal setting, so do go along and make an effort to talk to new people. It's tempting to gravitate towards friends or people you already know, but you'll get more from the experience if you socialise more widely. One nice thing about social events is that you don't need to worry too much about hierarchy, as it's typical for even very senior professors to talk to students or anyone else at these events.
Make a plan to get home safely
One more thing to consider if you're going out to a late-night event is how you will get back to your hotel. It's not easy to navigate around an unfamiliar city at night, so make sure that you look up information about public transport options or find a number for a taxi company before you go out.
Already attending a conference this spring? But feeling underprepared? Well, take a look at our Conference Guidebook, it covers all you need to to know!