Suggestions for conference etiquette


I am really really nervous about an upcoming conference, even though I am not presenting! It is my first one and I have absolutely no idea what to expect (or who to expect!), I am also going alone.
I find it very hard to socialise with new people and I am really worried that I will just spend the whole time alone and too scared to speak to anyone - this is partly due to the fact I am hugely unconfident in talking about my work, and partly because I am also quite shy! Infact, I have no idea what sort of conversations people have and how formal these events can be. Might sound a silly question, but do people at conference just talk about academia? How sociable are such events? And also, what happens at the presentations and do people take notes etc? I'm sorry, these are really ridiculous questions but it would put my mind at rest if I knew!
The prospect of having to be surrounded with no-one but academics for a few days seriously doesn't thrill me right now!


Hey- great question!

I too am going to my first conference, though not until after easter. I am not presenting, but it would be great to find out other peoples experiences and maybe some hints or tips? What is the etiquette about introducing yourself to people?

And what the hell do I wear? It's a student conference so I'm guessing it doesn't need to be too smart?


Hi SillyBilly - I guess you can't go wrong with smart/casual, that's the sort of thing I was thinking of. I just have this image of old men in tweed (oh my god, I KNOW that's not even representative, so why am I thinking it??!) and I actually look very young (or so I'm told, because I get ID'd buying paracetamol - seriously) so I feel like I will stick out so much..


once i attended an international symposium in Turkey where i presented a poster. I travelled alone. I was also worried about how to approach people. During the conference i was all the time beside my poster ... as you know people come and go ... i tried to talk to any one who try to have a look at my poster and intiate a conversation ... from where you are ... is my poster subject of any interest and so on .. also i tried to go around to alook at posters and try to ask the presenter about his work ... just passing time


excuse my ignorance, but what exactly is the poster presentation - is it where individuals who don't give papers present their research to everyone? Do you have lots in one room sort of thing?


well ... every conference has two sessions ... miscro-symposias (oral presentation) and poster sessions. Usually poster sessions come between oral prsentation sessions. In the conference i attended there were 200 posters presented ... during poster sessions and tea/lunch breaks i was just going around pretending that i am interested in knowing more about others work ... so try to find the way that you can merge/blend between people


In terms of etiquette, may I wear my purple chiffon skirt, green tights and tuxedo jacket to present a seminal paper on the reproducibility of perfectly cooked chips
Sorry, this was getting very serious and I've had a good day


Antyhing less than a frock coat and a perriwig is slumming it, in my opinion.


Hey .. no need to wear like a jerk or like Mr. Bean .. wear
something showing repect to other people who you may talk
to, to give good impression about you and from where you
came from. enjoy


Oral presentations - depending on the size of the conference there may be one or more sessions running concurrently so decide which you want to go and arrive in good time as some sessions end up packed. Make notes if you wish, I always have my notepad in front if something interesting comes out. If you're brave, you could even ask a question at the end of the presentation.

Poster sessions (as already mentioned) are separate from the orals. Posters are up in a room and the author stands by their poster and answers questions from delegates perusing the room.

Conferences are a great chance to network and get your face known, so speak to people. Get some business cards done and see how many you can swap (note on the back why they're interesting so you remember who was who). I did a poster in my first year, this year (my 2nd year) I'm doing an oral at a big conference which I was initially thrilled about and then realised what I've let myself in for! Can't wait though!


Hi mokey,

I had the same worries when I went to my first conference also by myself. I would suggest smart/casual then you'll fit in fine between the people who are very smart and the people who turn up in jeans etc.

As for what people talk about, everyone I spoke to was very encouraging when i said i was a first year student. Nobody grilled me on my topic most people just chatted nicely gave me suggestions. With the other students and younger PostDoc I found we chatted less about work as the conference went on and we got to know each other.

The main thing is try to enjoy it. Just before i went to my first conference i was feeling a bit low, but going there and hearing baout people's work and talking to everyone really inspired me. I hope you come away from your conference feeling the same


I'd be interested on any feedback anyone has about first conference experiences from a slightly different perspective.

I'm an MSc student, and had my undergrad research accepted as a poster presentation at a big conference in the near future (I'm assuming it's 'big' as their website talks about 1800 delegates...and it's multidisciplinary).

I am trying very hard not to think, 'Help!'...but the only other people I know going from my institution are postdocs/staff (and I don't 'know' them).

Does anyone have any suggestions? I'm going to get a friend with good taste to go through my wardrobe, and am trying to find people with conference experience to talk to.


Dyst - not sure if you want advice regarding the poster or fashion sense - but as regards the poster here's my opinion -

I think that as a poster make sure it's more pictures less words - nothing worse than a poster with a million words - people will not read it - its up to you to talk someone through your results-

make sure your images are large enough to see from a distance - be endearing and excited about what you have to show people -

When talking folk through it, I always start with 'are you familiar with the subject?' assess what people know about the area first and then you don't have to explain stuff they already know

And most of all have fun



Mokey - again this is only based on my experience

As regards how social they are - they all vary - depends on how many people your own age there are (thats my general rule) don't get me wrong, we had a great conference recently where a group of us comandeered the entire foyer of the hotel and had all ages of delegates (the oldest was 84) join us for a pre-bed drink.

I think as far as being shy etc. probably the best way is just to walk up to folk and say hi - sometimes this is easier if they are presenting a poster - you can walk up, ask about their posters etc. and at te very least its a friendly face to sit beside at conference dinners

Conferences are all about building up your networking skills.

Whats the worst that can happen - you'll probably never see these people again so experiment with techniques of introducing yourself to people.


I think there is nothing wrong with walking up to a group you want to join and just standing with them and joining in the conversation when appropriate - thats what people expect you to do at these things

Good luck