When you first go to conference there is a risk of overloading with “stuff”.
Bear in mind that conference is a very unusual situation for a human being.
You are there being pumped full of the highest octane level of high octane political content for up to 18 hours a day. I once counted up over 50 subjects on which I had listened to speeches or explanations during a conference week.
It is very easy to take it all very seriously and end up with your head exploding.
Here’s some very simple tips:
- Make a plan of the things you want to do, but make sure it has plenty of gaps in it.
- Go with the flow. If you meet a friend or someone interesting you want to chat with for an hour, then forget that fringe meeting you were intending to go to. The most rewarding part of conference is meeting new friends and catching up with old friends.
- Leave gaps for just chilling out. Particularly allow a couple of hours or half a day just to go out and meander aimlessly around the conference town/city. At Glasgow once I had to escape from the conference “bubble” because I was starting to feel physically claustrophobic. A few hours vegetating in the armchair of a coffee shop with a few lattes sorted me out.
- Make sure you have plenty of time to go round the exhibition stalls, to chat with the people on the stands and pick up plenty of “freebies”.
- Try and speak at a fringe meeting or in the hall. You’ll kick yourself if you miss the opportunity. At least try to get to speak. I know someone who was eventually an MP for twelve years who originally went to six conferences and put in shedloads of speaking cards before he was called to speak. But that is the exception to the rule. First time speakers are often looked favourably upon by debate chairs when they are choosing speakers. The consultative sessions on the first day are highly recommended because they involve genuine informal debate and a chance to influence policy before it gets written down as a formal motion.
BONUS TIP – for first time speaking
Write down every word you want to say on a big sheet of paper in large type. Rehearse it over and over and over and over again – saying it out loud nice and slowly – and make sure you are not going to exceed your time. If you feel like speaking off the cuff a bit when you get to the podium, fair enough. But be ready to basically read out your script word for word. Your script is your security blanket to protect you against any nerves you might suffer. If you rehearse it enough you won’t have to look down at your text that much.