What To Bring To Networking Events and Conferences

The items you need to get the most out of your next event.

party networking

I go to a lot of local events, at least 1-2 per week, and it isn't rare for me to attend 3-4 per week. It used to be that on the morning of an event, or the night before, I'd prepare a bag of goodies to get maximum benefit. Now, I just keep an event bag stocked so that I can quickly throw in a few things and go.

Bookmark this article as a checklist to reuse in the future.

What I always bring to events

Here's what must be in my backpack or it will be sorely missed:

Name badge

Most events, especially paid events, will give out badges with your name on it but bringing my own assures that it will have the right information, with the right spelling and that it will work with whatever I'm wearing.

My favorite is actually a simple plastic badge that I received at an event a few years ago. It has a shoelace that you comfortably wear around your neck, and the plastic card has a white sticker with my name and Twitter handle. The only improvement is to put a similar sticker on the back of the plastic so that you don't have to constantly check whether the right side is facing front.

Business cards

Always bring more than you think you'll need, and store them in a small case that will keep them fresh like the day they were printed. When I open the case to hand out a card, I replace it with the card I received, tucked beneath the rest of my other business cards.

Pen

Take notes, scribble the event name on a business card handed out or received, or just to help out someone who needs one, which is a great conversation starter.

Smartphone

Aside from the obvious reasons for having one, I use my phone to take notes which are automatically uploaded to my Google (Drive) account, and to participate in the conference tweet stream (using #hashtags) if there is one.

Extra smartphone battery and/or charger + cable

What good is your smartphone if the battery is (almost) dead? Make it a non-issue.

Dictaphone

My secret weapon. I use it mainly to record speakers – especially if I'm one of them – but not only.

What happens all too often at informal talks is that I end up being the only person who recorded the event at all, and everyone – speaker(s) and audience – really appreciate it when I then post the audio for download after the event.

Only use a digital dictaphone so you can easily backup the recordings to your computer. Mine is a basically a glorified, battery-powered USB memory stick with high-end audio recording functionality.

Lapel microphone

At events where I'm speaking, the lapel microphone gives me the best audio quality when plugged into my dictaphone.

At events where I'm networking, I may hide the lapel microphone inside my collar to record my conversations FOR PRIVATE USE ONLY so that I can more easily take notes later. Or, I may sometimes just use the lapel microphone as a small wired microphone that I'll hold up to someone I'm talking to.

Breath mints or gum

Most events have some kind of food served whether there's a buffet or just cookies and coffee. Whatever the menu, regardless of whether you have halitosis or not, an occasional mint or minty gum will make conversation more pleasant for everyone.

Medication

As a chronic asthma and allergy sufferer, I need to come prepared or I may suffer a lot! Anyone traveling to events may be prone to headaches so some sort of aspirin or anti-inflammatory is handy too.

I have a collapsible plastic cup with a cover that – if initially dry – can double as a pillbox.

Tissues

And as a chronic allergy sufferer, I'm guaranteed to need a tissue at some point.

Wallet

An obvious one, but I'd be hard-pressed to get to an event without it.

In-ear headphones

Not so much for the event itself, more for the commute to and from. Although if you do need to listen to some recorded audio e.g. from the dictaphone you brought with you, this will be the only way to do it discreetly in a large, noisy room.

What I might also bring to events

Depending on the event in question, its length and where it is, here are some optional things that I might also bring along or that you might need instead.

Event entry ticket

A must for most conferences, less so for most networking events. But if your ticket needs to be printed in advance, don't wait until the last minute.

Hand sanitizer

No paranoia here, but if you get sick easily or if you are sick already, you might want to keep some hand sanitizer close by so that no one catches anything needlessly.

Toiletries or cosmetics

Not an issue for most men – although I'll sometimes pack anti-perspirant – but critical for most women. Always be prepared.

Hand moisturizer

Because no one likes sandpaper handshakes. Use a local product in case anyone asks why your hands are so smooth.

HD camera

Take great pictures to post online after the event, letting people tag each other while thinking of you in the process.

Also, for short evening events or seminars, consider recording video of all speakers – including yourself – for your own purposes or in case no one else does so, which often happens at less formal meetups. Plus, you might just be the backup camera if the main one proves not to be up to the task. That's happened to me a number of times and the event organizers were extremely appreciative.

Camera travel tripod

Look to have a small tripod that can attach your camera to non-conventional places (e.g. fixtures, heating pipes, you name it) so you can get the best angle. The tripod for my old Flip Ultra HD has 3 legs that can grab onto a pole.

Tablet

Great for showing off your work portfolio whether that means demoing software that you're working on, or showing video of something you helped create.

External keyboard

Typically a Bluetooth keyboard, super handy for taking notes or social media sharing on your smartphone or tablet when you don't feel like lugging a full laptop.

Laptop

Sometimes though, an external keyboard + smartphone/tablet is no substitute for the real thing. If you do bring a laptop regularly, you'll probably also want a protective case, mouse and power pack.

Powerbar

One of my networking secrets. I can't count the number of times someone else has struck up a conversation with me because I had a powerbar plugged into the only visible outlet in the area.

Extra batteries

Because you might need them for all the other event-critical electronics you're shlepping along, such as for the dictaphone.

Water and/or food

Most events will have some food and drinks, so you probably won't need to bring your own. However, I've been to events where they've run out of food, or ran out before I was able to break away from networking, or the food was something I couldn't eat for dietary restrictions or other reasons. In which case I was sure glad to have something with me, even if it was just a piece of fruit.

Ask the readers

Is there anything NOT on my list that is a must for your event pack? Tell us in the comments.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Personal Branding Blog.

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