In fact, the “boozy work conference” stereotype is often a myth in itself. It is worth noting that lots of the most committed executives, employees and business-people you want to talk to will not be drinking, and instead will be more likely to quietly slope off to bed at 10pm at the latest. In effect, the people that might be the most important to network with might also be joining you in avoiding the bar. And, even if they aren’t, few people will really notice if the glass in your hand contains a gin and tonic or a lime and soda.
So let’s get back to why you are there. You’re at a conference to make connections, network with other bright and like-minded people who work in your sector, and share issues that your clients are interested in. If you want to fulfill these objectives, you are more likely to succeed without alcohol, and also using a little bit of planning. Being focused on getting in there, doing the job and acing it will be more likely to keep you sober.
First off, consider how you can meet people without heading to the bar. Arrive knowing who you want to speak to, obtain their names and pictures and track them down. Think about which fringe events the people you want to meet or speak to will be at. Make a list. Decide on an opening question for that event so talking to a stranger feels natural, not forced. After all, you are there to have conversations – it doesn’t matter how and when you have them, and this way is far more efficient than by accident in the bar.
And if you do have to attend an event where alcohol is involved, make sure to always have a glass in your hand with something in it. Choose a fizzy water and lemon or a lime and soda. Bring along your drink of choice to top up your own wine glass – no one will know, and the truth is they won’t care. When someone asks if they can get you a drink, practice what you will say – whether it “a lime and soda please” or simply “no, thanks”. Say it with confidence, and if they ask, tell them it’s because you want a clear head – they won’t argue.
It might also be worth planning the evening, if your conference takes place over a couple of days. Think about what will happen when you leave the conference room. Give yourself some criteria for the interactions you might have. Will this person I am speaking to remember this conversation tomorrow? Am I getting any real value out of this conversation? Or would my time be best spent putting on my pyjamas, ordering a hot choc on room service and watching something on the telly instead?
Then plan your reward. Does your hotel or place you’re staying have facilities? Could you go for a walk or a swim? Could you have a healthy breakfast? Create your plan for the whole day.
I used to secretly envy people who got through conferences or training weekends looking fresh. I suspect their only real secret was that they did not drink to excess. They got more done and created time to decompress and be alone.
You can do this conference sober if you want to. It could be your best conference yet!