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Experts Speak English PODCAST

Preparing For An International Conference As A Non-native Speaking Participant. #173

International Conferences as a Non Native Speaker:   🎙️ "Ever felt lost in the crowd at a conference, wondering how to be less of a wall flower and more "WOW! They know their stuff!"  Join me in the latest episode of Experts Speak English as we unlock the secrets to maximizing your conference experience. From strategic networking to mastering the communication you need to make the conference a worthwhile investment of your time. Let's ensure that your next business event is a game-changer for both you as an individual but also for your career. I'll share some quirky Cocotastic tips on getting the most out of every moment. Don't just attend – show up as the English Speaking Expert. Coming up next!" 🌟 #ExpertsSpeakEnglish #ConferenceSuccess 

Taking time out of an already busy schedule to go to an international conference is a good idea in terms of becoming and being recognised as the English speaking expert. If you surround yourself with other experts you will learn more, experience more and most importantly will feel like and be seen as an expert yourself. To get maximum impact out of a conference though, requires planning and communication.

Having both organised and attended many conferences as an organiser, keynote speaker and participant I learned this the hard way so let’s make sure that your next conference is well worth your time and energy attending, shall we?

Before we start I would like to say a few words to the non native speakers listening. If English is not your first language, don’t panic. There will be people at the conference with much better English than you and there will be others that you find difficult to understand. This might be due to their charming but difficult to understand accent or gruesome grammar or the way that they are saying the words – so pronunciation. Instead of freaking out about not being to make yourself understood, instead convert nervous energy into constructive steps to improve your English between now and the conference. 

The best way to do that is to listen to podcasts like this one. The more you hear about your industry and function or job in English, then the more that language will become a part of how you communicate. So when you first started in this job you probably also didn’t understand everything but with time, exposure and practice it got easier. It’s the same with being able to communication in business in English. Exposure and practice.

You don’t need to understand every word to get the gist of the conversation or message and as you get used to people talking in a fast and passionate way, you will find it easier to understand them, so cut yourself a bit of slack and use the conference as a source of motivation to get more exposure and practice in the English language or Business English and you’ll be fine.

Be strong, be fearless, be beautiful. And believe that anything is possible when you have the right people there to support you.

In this episode, I will first advise you about what to do and say before the conference, then during the conference, then after the conference. Sound logical?

Test your Word Power

This word game is based on the first 8 minutes of the podcast episode.

Before the Conference


  • Set Your Expectations:
    Two questions for you
    What will make this conference worth your while?
    What can you do to make that happen?

    By following the event hashtag in the lead up to the conference you will be alerted before, during and after the conference about what is going on there (perhaps in another session) or by someone that could be potentially interesting for you.

    Give a shout out about travelling to the event on LinkedIn and if there is a Slack Channel, WhatsApp group or similar make sure that you know about it early, that means checking the emails and being proactive about your conference visit.  

  • Research and Planning: When you are looking at the conference agenda look at the description very carefully. Is the speaker actually an author trying to sell a book, do you get the impression that they will be talking at you with boring slides or will it be more interactive? Check out the speakers in advance, experienced speakers have videos of themselves speaking on You Tube, their own website or on social media. It might feel time consuming to check them out and I get it, you’re busy, but it’s better than sitting in a session that is boring you to death, isn’t it?

    Personally I don’t tolerate bad speakers, if it is unbearable I get up and leave discretely, but doing your research beforehand is by far the better option.

  • Schedule In Breaks: We can only take in so much and as tempting as it is to go to every session, sometimes I can’t even decide which one it is important to make sure that you create some opportunities for breaks above and beyond a bio break, let’s face it, you’ll probably even end of chatting there – especially the women as there is always a queue isn’t there?

    Giving yourself the permission and opportunity to rest and recharge during the conference will mean that you can concentrate more and will have enough energy at the end of the conference for those all important conversations with other English speaking experts just like you. Networking is often the cushioning around the learning and to get the most out of the conference you’ll need both learning and networking.

  • What’s going on near by? If you are a member of an international club like Toastmasters, Rotary or BNI then you might want to add on a few days so that you can attend their meetings – again, another opportunity to network. Likewise if you have clients or other stakeholders nearby why not reach out to them or even the speakers or other attendees before the conference to meet up.

    Consider taking a day or two off afterwards so that you can do some sightseeing.  It gives you a decent opportunity to reflect and mull over what you have learned and experienced before the dash back home. For me, this is probably one of the most enjoyable ways to get some time for myself which as an introvert I desperately need after a people packed conference.

  • Parents. If you have a family, make sure your partner can be relied upon to not just hold the fort temporarily but to really step up as a parent. Both of you need to be respectful of each other’s careers.  If you value your career, your family and your relationship that requires an open and honest conversation. By having this clarity before you go away, you can really focus on the conference knowing your kids are being fed real food and having a lovely time at home with your partner.

    When I was a little girl my Dad would travel from time to time but when he did I got to spend special time with my Mum, we did things that my Dad wasn’t really interested in and my Mum who normally got stressed out about things somehow managed to make these times really special – not by spending a lot of money but by doing nice things together like having midnight feasts, having friends over for dinner or teddy bear picnics in the garden. We couldn’t really afford for him to bring us something when he went away but my Mum would buy something she knew I would like and pack it up in advance. I know because I find her secret hiding place in the hall once. Anyway slightly off topic let’s get back to the conference planning, shall we

    Packing List: So what will you need to bring to the conference? For me, I still love business cards, you might also want to take some brochures or flyers if you have them or some branded pens, for those ‘Do you happen to have another pen?” moments but also practical things like chargers and a conversion plug if you are travelling overseas. If you have a business credit card make sure you know the number and it doesn’t harm to have some cash in the local currency.

    Don’t make this mistake:
    In my corporate days I was on business trips most weeks and once I got caught out without something formal, so when we were invited spontaneously to a smart dinner, I had to do a mad dash to find something in a completely new place with unfamiliar shops and brands. Even though I love shopping normally, in the 90 minutes I had to find something to wear, get back to the hotel and get ready, this was very stressful.
    Instead: So now I always pack a formal red dress that packs small and doesn’t seem to need ironing with a bolero jacket and ballerinas. That way I’m ready for anything.

    Another thing I do which is a bit Cocotastic perhaps, has to do with my hatred of hotels. To make it a bit more homely I put up pretty fairy lights in the bathroom, I leave them on when I go out so that I don’t have to go into a completely dark room when I get back at night. Maybe I’m more of a scaredy cat than you are, but fairy lights do it for me and don’t take up much space.


During the Conference

Speak to the best – presenters: The presenters usually welcome it when people ask questions as it gives them an opportunity to interact more with their audience, and maybe cover something that they simply didn’t have time to include, so indulge them with a thought provoking question – not to catch them out but to give them an opportunity to provide context, examples or exceptions for example.

  • Participate in discussions. If you are there on your own, then be brave enough to join other people for a conversation around the topic that was just discussed or perhaps something else that is affecting them in their industry for example. Broader perspectives like this enable you to be a lot more creative and innovative back in the office.
  • Networking Strategies: When I was working at PriceWaterhourseCoopers, we used to help the rather socially awkward but brilliant forensic accountants to prepare for our own conferences with a ‘Working The Room’ workshop. This gave them an opportunity to learn how to initiate small talk in a way that felt welcoming and genuine. Not all of the partners and senior managers were native speakers so this would give them an opportunity to practice things like
    introducing people,
    offering someone a drink
    changing the topic,
    or politely getting out of the conversation.
  • Working The Room Workshop. This hands on workshop (and I have one of these too actually) gave them the confidence to work the room with intention and less inhibitions, even though many of them were smart introverts.
    Mini communication skills like approaching new people, asking open-ended questions, and following up after the conference, might seem obvious in theory but in practice they can be quite intimidating. So practicing them in a safe space replaces apprehension with calm and curiosity.
  • Take Notes: It might feel a bit old school but do take notes on key insights, action items, and contacts made during the conference. There are usually too many to remember and it is nice to capture some useful statistics, quotes and nuggets of knowledge for future conversations at work, when you are selling an idea or giving industry insights. Feel free to make photos if it is allowed and I prefer actually writing rather than typing and somehow it feels more respectful towards the speakers or presenters.
  • Selecting Sessions: If like me you promise yourself to be organised and know exactly where you want to be where but never get around to it, then at the very latest in the hotel room on the night before the first day of the conference makes a plan. Knowing how to prioritize can be tricky so think about your company and personal goals and select sessions that align closely with those objectives and professional interests. Think not only about what you need to know (and who you want to get to know now) but also about the future.
  • Networking Strategies: If you find it awkward initiating conversations then the top three that work well for me are compliments, questions and observations. So you might compliment someone on a shirt, bag or scarf – it would be nicer to give them a compliment based on their performance but of course you won’t know a stranger well enough to do that – so a compliment is a nice easy opener. Asking a question is an easy one to get into conversation, it can be anything as simple as, “Did you hear which room the … was?” or something like “Oh I see you work for … where are you based?”. Then there are observations like – “Gosh that was quite a long session wasn’t it?” or even a mix, like “I loved her presenting style, have you heard her speak before?”
  • Remember names by casually dropping them into the conversation (I need to do this three times before it sticks), sometimes there isn’t enough time to exchange contact information at a conference, so if you meet someone interesting and approachable, jot their name down.
  • Female Leader Tip. Those of you that have met me will know that I am an avid notes taker. I deliberately choose a jacket for conferences which is big enough for my phone and a small notepad and pen. For women it can be tricky to find a smart jacket that has big enough pockets so don’t leave this until the week before the conference if I were you.
  • Connection. Remember – the main goal here is building meaningful connections with other attendees. Be yourself, be interested in other people and it will all fall into place. If you’re listening to this and think yeah, Corinne, easy for you to say – then let’s jump on a Virtual Tea Break to see if I can help – either through coaching or one of the Working the Room Workshops that I mentioned.
  • Engagement and Participation: It’s easy to take your seat and get ready to be entertained and informed, but the more you engage in sessions, ask questions, and contribute to discussions, the more you will get out of the conference. Identify where you are on the say nothing – say everything spectrum and start speaking up more or less to get to that golden middle.
  • Be Approachable. Make yourself easy to talk to by smiling and inviting people into the conversation. If you see someone looking and feeling like Billy No Mates, then invite them to join you. People really appreciate that.

After The Conference

  • Follow-Up: A lot of people feel incredibly self conscious about following up after the conference but I find that if I can do it as soon as I can then the vibe of that conversation tends to make it a lot easier. Selfies are a great way to do this and a nice way to get their name and contact details.

  • What to say? Following up with new contacts with an article that they might appreciate or a thought or idea that you had after the conference lets them know that they are on your radar – keep it simple and sincere.

    The more personal you can be, the more they will want to keep in touch, follow you on LinkedIn etc

  • Thank you notes. Now those of you in direct cultures will view this next idea as weird and something that you haven’t done since you had to send notes to your family after Christmas, but sending thank-you notes to speakers makes a big difference and not many people do it. So it makes you stand out, particularly if you send them by post (or snail mail).

  • Collaborators. Likewise, did you meet any potential collaborators? If so then keep in touch as soon as you can and keep that dialogue open until you are ready to run an idea past them. Think about what’s in it for them and be open and honest about why collaborating with them would be not just effective on a corporate level but also enjoyable on a personal one. Remember – it’s how you make people feel that counts.
  • Reflect and Implement: Remember to reflect on the conference experience. What did you learn, who did you meet? Perhaps you can create a short, dynamic LinkedIn Post or email to your team with the key takeaways, and develop a plan for implementing new ideas or strategies. Would you go back? If yes would you do anything differently? If you didn’t learn much and sat there feeling slightly frustrated and bored, then I have great news for you – it’s time to transition from participant to speaker – more about that in my next episode.
  • Feedback: I know that at the end of a conference you can feel drained and suffering from information overload but I really encourage you to provide feedback to conference organizers – that’s the only way that you can expect them to improve future events. If you would have preferred more breaks tell them, if you would have liked a more dynamic opening speech say so, if there was a speaker that was as dull as watching paint dry, tell them.
  • Stay Engaged: Once the conference is over people will hopefully be using the hashtag to share photos, insights, call out to new contacts etc, so take advantage of this community building vibe through social media, online forums, and possibly follow-up events.
Cocos Communication Challenge

Coco's Communication Challenge (45 Minutes)

So Coco’s Communication Challenge for this episode of Experts Speak English is to set the timer for 45 minutes and do some research on conferences that you would like to go to in the next 12 to 18 months.

1. Get the dates in your diary, (taking into account buffer days that I mentioned)
2. Get clearance or permission to go
3. Organise your ticket and travel for at least 3 conferences.

If your employer is not prepared to pay for them, pay for yourself and see it as an investment in yourself.

4. Tell me in the LinkedIn post about this podcast episode where you plan on going and if you will be there as a participant or a presenter.
5. Next week I will be sharing how to prepare for a conference as a speaker, so I look forward to speaking to you then.

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In the meantime, be the very best communicator that you can be 
You’ve been listening to Corinne Wilhelm on the Experts Speak English podcast brought to you by English Speaking Experts

Take care now

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