Etiquette Tips for Business Conference Attendees

Business people at conference discussing literature, view from podium
Maintain your professional etiquette during a conference. Jacobs Stock Photography/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Have you ever worried about an upcoming conference that you have to attend? Are you concerned about what others think about you? 

The business conference offers attendees an opportunity to show professionalism, knowledge and job skills in a more personal environment than a typical business meeting. The downside is that there are also quite a few opportunities to make etiquette mistakes that can't be taken back once they're committed.

Next time you attend a conference, remember that your reputation is at stake every moment you are visible to another attendee. Maintain a positive demeanor and do whatever you can to be friendly, help others, and get only positive attention. If you see others who appear uncomfortable, take the opportunity to put them at ease.

Proper Attire

As you plan what your conference wardrobe, make sure you understand the general dress code of the event. Formal business means a suit, a tie for men, dark socks for men and closed-toed shoes for women, and hose for women.

You have more latitude with business casual. Men may choose to wear a suit, but a sports coat is also appropriate. Women may wear pantsuits or coordinating slacks, tops, and jackets. Although some women may wear peep-toe shoes or sandals, if you are unsure, play it safe with pumps or flats.

Plan Ahead

As you pack, don't forget items you are likely to need.

Many conference planners have a list of things you need to have. Also include cell phone, pens, pencils, paper, tablet or laptop, business cards, and something to carry your supplies. You'll also need to include chargers for all electronic equipment.

Remember to have conference materials that have been sent ahead.

This may include your schedule, a syllabus, and a map. Know the names and something about the people you need to talk to.

Brush up on your business etiquette by following these tips:

Reputation and Behavior

Guard your reputation at all times. Speak in a positive manner and remain loyal to your company. You never know who may be listening. There may be alcohol served at the conference, but know your limits. If you overindulge, you may say something you'll later regret. If in doubt, choose virgin drinks instead of alcohol.

Meeting behavior tips:

  • Show up on time.
  • During meetings, keep your attention focused on the speaker.
  • Don't fidget or squirm.
  • Ask questions that are relevant to the topic.
  • Never interrupt the speaker or someone else who is asking a question.
  • When you get up, push your chair in and pick up all your papers and personal belongings.
  • Thank the speaker, but don't monopolize his or her time.

Respect Others

Chances are, you'll be surrounded by other people who are there for the same reason you are.

Show respect for everyone around you—from the lowest level employee to the CEO of a company you'd like to work for. When you see two people having a private conversation, give them some space and time to finish their conversation before joining them.

Follow proper hotel etiquette during your entire stay. You also need to treat conference and hotel staff with respect. Those people work hard to make sure everyone has what they need. Be generous with tips.

Electronics

Although it's generally expected that you'll have your electronics equipment with you, be respectful of others. Turn down the sound on your tablet or laptop if you bring them to meetings or workshops. Put your cell phone on silent during all events.

Business Cards

It is always good form to bring your business cards to business conferences.

Make sure you have them on you at all times because you never know when you'll meet someone you'd like to communicate with later.

When you accept someone else's business card, place it in your pocket, handbag, or cardholder. You may jot down some notes on the back of the card to jog your memory later.

Pitches

If you want to pitch an idea or product to another attendee, try to schedule an appointment so you have the other person's undivided attention. Show up on time and avoid being too pushy or demanding. Many decisions need to be made by committee or at a later date.

Mealtime

Follow proper table manners when dining at a business conference. If you are ever in doubt about which utensil to use, follow the lead of the host of your table or the person who is heading up the conference. Keep all conversation appropriate for mealtime.