Conferences are a very important part of the life of the Nigerian professional or civil servant. After working so hard it is important to take a break by attending one. To have a year go by without attending a conference, especially one you have to travel for is to have a wasted year. God forbid that you have a wasted year.
To start with, you must be vigilant in identifying possible conferences you can attend. If you leave it to chance you may never attend, or you may be left with those silly local half-day conferences that don’t even serve lunch. God will judge those stingy people. The conference you want to attend is one where you travel, possibly get a per diem from your office and certainly a hotel room. A hotel room, even if the conference is in the same city you live in, is the minimum requirement for a decent conference. The best ones are the conferences outside Nigeria. Those ones are hard to get and many times you have to lobby to get them. Do what it takes. If the boss wants something in return for putting your name on the list to a conference in Brussels or Paris, don’t think too much about it. Just do it. After all when you are posting photos from abroad on Facebook and Twitter, no one will ask what you did to get there. People will be happy for you.
At a conference, it is important to collect everything they give even if you do not need it. Collect as many jotters, pens, and conference materials as your bags can carry. Especially things like branded bags, fez caps, and t-shirts. You did not come to the conference to watch these things go to waste. If you do not collect them, what will they do with them? Waste is bad.
There is the important point of nourishment at a conference. You need to be well fed to be able to follow the people reading their speeches at the conference. There is no need to be shy about rushing to join the queue for food. Some conferences make mistakes and bring too little food. In this matter the first (to get food) shall be the last (to worry if the food will get to you). If it is a buffet, take as much as you can on your plate. Or find a way to wrap some meat or rice and take it up to your hotel room just in case you get hungry at night. Never leave anything to chance.
Networking is extremely important at a conference. Indeed you will gather many worthless business cards which are less valuable than the glossy paper they are printed on, but do not despair. Out of a hundred useless persons, you will find at least one useful person. Useful people at conferences are in two categories: people who can help you enjoy the conference and people who can help you attend another conference. Sometimes these two categories merge. The first category - people who help you enjoy the conference - consists of persons who may, following a good first impression follow you to your cold, lonely hotel room later at night. As a child of God I am not sure what goes on during conferences inside the hotel rooms at the end of each day. I am just telling you what I have heard. The second category of persons are big ogas and madams who can include your name in a future conference. Those ones are very important. Keep their business cards separately. Send them nice texts from time to time. Ask for their birthday and send them a message. Wish them God's blessings in their life. And if per chance you end up with a conference controlling oga or madam in your hotel room, then glory halleluiah, the two categories have merged for you and your conference hustle will be forever blessed.
If you have not been asked to speak at a conference, do not despair. Wait for the question and answer period. As soon as they invite the audience to make contributions, raise your hand. Usually, the moderator will ask you to keep your questions brief and to the point so that more people can participate. Some moderators even go as far as saying things like “questions only, no comments”. Take it from me: it is all a trap to stop you from freely expressing yourself. Ignore it. When you have been given the microphone, tap it (or blow into it) to make sure it is working. If there is no microphone, don’t worry. Begin with a detailed introduction of yourself. If you have any awards, titles or recent achievements, please feel free to mention them. To avoid having rude moderators attempt to cut you short in the beginning, open with the phrase: “My question is”, then go ahead to make your own little speech. They will be more patient with that opening than with you admitting that you want to make a comment or speech of your own. Do not stop speaking until the moderator is visibly uncomfortable and has asked you, “please can you go straight to the question?” Then you can either throw in a question or just conclude your remarks.
Sometimes you do not need to wait to attend a conference that you need. As long as you are not paying your own way to a conference, try to attend as many conferences as you can attend, whether it is about girl-child education, offshore technology or humanism. A free conference with hotel accommodation is a free conference with hotel accommodation. No need to discriminate.
It is just the middle of the year and I hope that if you haven’t already attended a conference, God will bless your conference hustle and recommend you one abroad where their souvenirs and hotels are of higher quality.