Conference Advice

Conferences can be great for networking, but all professional women could use a bit of advice on what to wear, what to say, and more.

Sleeved Dresses with Pockets

dresses with sleeves and pockets roundupI was just writing something about the best default thing to wear to a networking event (like a conference) where you don’t know what to wear — and my answer was, if all else failed, wear “a sleeved dress with pockets.”  Sleeves because it looks like a complete look — no need for a cardigan or blazer to forget somewhere — and pockets so you have a place to stash business cards, key cards, and more.  Then, I thought to myself: good luck finding that workwear unicorn!  Despite lots of readers (year after year!) sleeved dresses with pockets!saying how much they love sleeved dresses — and dresses with pockets! — very few companies are granting that mystical request.  So I thought I’d do a mini hunt: FIVE sleeved dresses with pockets. (Psst: here’s an old WSJ article about why so many dresses are sleeveless.)

Let’s start our hunt with some of the top-rated dresses at Nordstrom

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Five Things You Must Bring to a Conference

Five Things You Must Bring to a Conference | Corporette2017 Update: We still stand by this advice on things to bring to a conference (and links have been updated below), but you may also want to check out our more recent discussion of what to wear to a conference.

We haven’t had a talk about conferences in too long — so ladies, let’s discuss! What are your top 5 things to bring to conferences? What are you looking for most in a conference — networking, inspiration, or education? Any fun stories (successes or failures) of conferences to share?

My own list of the top 5 things to bring to a conference would include:

  1. A tiny wall tap to expand the power outlet situation (this one or this one both look great — nice and lightweight).  Everyone ALWAYS needs to charge their devices — and there are never enough outlets.  Not only will you be able to charge when you need to, but you’ll be the belle of the ball (both at the conference and the airport, if you’re traveling).
  2. Business cards. Don’t forget your business cards — and have them somewhere accessible, such as in a pocket. Even though a business card sometimes feels a bit antiquated in today’s day and age, I totally forgot to replenish my supply when I went to my last conference and was kicking myself the whole time.
  3. A wrap. It sometimes feels like you can never get the temperature exactly right — so dress in layers. A wrap is great because you can wear it around your shoulders over a blazer, around your neck as a scarf if the weather outside is cold (or you miscalculated the level of cleavage showing that day), put it on your lap if your legs are cold, or fold it up and put it in your bag. (Bonus: it can be a travel pillow in a cinch.)
  4. A snack you can carry in your bag.  My go-tos would be a Luna bar, a KIND bar, or a small bag of almonds.  After all, there are usually limited opportunities to refuel with food, and you never want food to be the driving focus of the event.  If you have to wait around because you want to talk to a speaker after an event, or even run an errand
  5. A lightweight bag, preferably a shoulder bag. For some conferences or networking events, people feel safe ditching their bags and coats at the table, or at coat check.  Other events, though, are either in public spaces, or with new, extremely large groups of people, and you won’t feel comfortable ditching your bag.  You may or may not know how you’ll feel until the moment — so make sure your bag isn’t going to hinder your networking.  Lighten your load. Don’t carry a bag that interferes with your ability to hold a drink, such as a satchel. (Am I the only one who’s most comfortable talking to other people if I’m holding a drink? Very odd.) Finally, rethink that super expensive bag, if you tend to be obsessive over it (is it scratched? is it touching the floor? did she just KICK my BAG when she passed behind me?!?) — keep your focus on the conference instead.

Ladies, what are your top 5 things to bring to a conference?  What’s been the best conference you ever attended — and what made it great? 

Psst: our top 6 tips for networking at conferences where you know no one, and what to pack on a one-day business trip.

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Guest Post: What to Wear For a Presentation or TV Appearance

What to Wear: TV Appearances | CorporetteWhat should you wear when you’re the star of a corporate presentation, or making a TV appearance for something job-related? This can be a bit different than what to wear for a conference or for interview attire, to say the least, and while we’ve talked about HD makeup for video interviews, we’ve never answered this specific question. So I’ve brought back Sally McGraw, the blogger extraordinaire behind Already Pretty, who does regular TV appearances — she’s guest posted before for us on power dressing for yourself, as well as letting us excerpt her book, Already Pretty: Learning to Love Your Body by Learning to Dress it Well.  Welcome back, Sal! – Kat.

I’m a ham. Happy to admit it. I landed my first lead role in a play at the ripe old age of 10 and have been performing onstage ever since. I may have shifted from drama to music and now to television appearances and lectures, but it’s all performance-related and even after all these years I still get a little jittery every time I walk onstage.

So I know from personal experience how important it is to nail my look before the audience begins to applaud or the camera turns my way. I want to be totally focused on my message and avoid fidgeting and fussing with my outfit at all costs. And, of course, I want to look my best. Here are some guidelines to help you look your best before an audience: [Read more…]

Asking Your Boss For Help With Networking

How to Get Networking Help From Your Boss | CorporetteIf you’re new in the field, should you expect your boss to introduce you to her contacts and take you to networking events? How can you ask her to start helping you network? Reader S wonders…

I’m new in my career in a small office and my boss is well established in our field. She has wonderful contacts and is a member of many associations and groups. I had hoped my boss would take me under her wing a little and be a great mentor as I learn the ropes. Unfortunately, I have not be invited to join her at any of these events. Is it appropriate to ask to be introduced to her network and to accompany her to events? I don’t want her to feel threatened that I’m looking for better opportunities, but I think it’s important to get to know the industry players as well.

Great question, S!  We’ve talked about how to network when you’re junior, how to get networking help from an adjunct professor, how to network at a conference, and how to know which networking organizations to join, but we haven’t talked about this before. [Read more…]

Are Scarves Professional Enough?

Are Scarves Professional Enough? | CorporetteAre scarves professional enough for conferences? Are there some ways of wearing a scarf that are more professional than other ways?  How, in general, do you dress for a male-dominated conference?  Reader A, writing from Europe (and a very male-dominated profession), wonders:

Maybe this is a cultural issue, but I’d never, ever, wear a scarf to a conference. Ever. At the office, sure, if there’s no meetings. At a conference, however, there is no more surefire way to be treated like a hostess/secretary/admin than wearing a scarf. The women who actually have those jobs are all colour-coordinated, but that doesn’t help. All people see is scarf or no scarf.  I think it’s a real shame, as I like scarves and the femininity they bring to an outfit. Instead, I’ve settled for statement jackets, or a skirt or shoes that “pop”.

Is this because I’m in a (very) male dominated business, or is it a Europe/US thing?

We’ve talked about how to wear scarves, as well as how to pack and what to wear to conferences before, of course, but this is a new one — and a very interesting one, given that scarves would never strike me as something a) unprofessional in general, b) hostess/secretary/admin.  When I worked at a very male-dominated law firm, one of the female partners I worked closely with — who certainly commanded respect from everyone — was known for her collection of Hermes scarves that she would wear long and loose beneath her blazers, a bit like the “drape scarf with bomber jacket” look above from Wendy’s Lookbook. (If you haven’t seen it, her scarf-tying tutorial is pretty awesome; the screenshot above is from the “companion” video. Another great resource generally: Une Femme d’un Certain Âge.) [Read more…]

How to Network at a Conference

How to Network at a Conference | CorporetteHow do you network at a conference where you know no one? Reader A wonders…

I’ve been a lawyer for about one year, and I’m going to my first national conference in a couple of months. I’m the only person from my firm going, and I don’t anticipate knowing anyone there. Do you have any tips for networking, meeting people, and generally getting a lot out of a conference when one is attending completely alone?

Yowza — that can be difficult, and I’m curious to hear what the readers say.  (Pictured: Conference, originally uploaded to Flickr by zigazou76.) Here are a few of my own suggestions:

– Make a “wishlist” based on who you KNOW will be attending. If this is a really huge conference, you might only know the speakers who are attending or the organizers, but look over their LinkedIn or other online profiles and see if any of them will be your “dream” connection. [Read more…]

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