Skip navigation
Special Events Blog

Balancing Act: Maximizing Conference Value While Minimizing Stress

How to maintain valuable professional connections without compromising your mental and physical well-being

Attending industry conferences like Catersource + The Special Event can be exciting and professionally rewarding. However, the whirlwind of events, networking, and educational sessions packed into a handful of days can easily lead to exhaustion and burnout by the time you return home.

The key to getting the most out of a big conference is uncompromising self-care. After all, attending a conference should be a marathon, not a sprint. 

Here are the strategies I use as a neuro-divergent speaker for staying energized, getting the most out of every experience, and handling follow-up without exhaustion and overwhelm.

Prioritize self-care

Self-care varies from person to person. While some indulge in mani-pedis and bubble baths, I’ve found my self-care groove when gearing up for conferences looks a bit different.

For me, it starts with packing my trusty water bottle and stocking up on my favorite Trader Joe’s snacks. These items aren’t just for taste; they keep me nourished and hydrated, and this I have found to be key.

Then, there’s my secret weapon in the conference toolkit—the midday nap. It might sound unconventional, but I schedule these short breaks to preserve my energy and clarity. If someone invites me to chat during nap time, I suggest an alternative time or a virtual meeting.

The point is to embrace self-care that’s purposeful for you. Whether it’s snacks and hydration or a quiet dinner alone at a fancy restaurant to relax and recharge, building self-care into your conference routine can help you to show up at your best and benefit the most from the experience.

Take breaks

When I first started attending conferences, I would take a break by going out into a corridor and checking my email. This is not a break, my friend. Revenge screentime is not a break, it’s an energy drain. 

Now I find a few mindful breaks outside are the most helpful. I set a timer for five or 10 minutes on my phone, set it down, and take in the scenery. I look for birds, flowers, and trees that are different from what I typically see. I breathe deeply and slowly. I enjoy the sunlight on my skin after being in windowless conference rooms. I allow my brain and body to relax. Sometimes I’ll close my eyes and meditate briefly, focusing on the steady cadence of my breath.  

Two or three short breaks between sessions each day help me maintain energy levels and stay engaged. Try it, even if it’s just one mindful break each day. 

Quality networking

Prioritizing quality networking from a self-care perspective means approaching interactions with intention and mindfulness.

Start by setting clear networking goals before the conference. Identify the individuals or organizations that align with your professional objectives and personal values. While historically personal values had little place in professional environments, I find that focusing on values makes connecting with others easier and more purposeful.

Don’t be afraid to engage in longer, more meaningful one-on-one conversations. When you take the time to foster deeper connections you can get more personal and professional value from your interactions. For me, deeper, more meaningful exchanges also energize me.

Get the most from speakers and sessions

It is so easy to leave a conference with a bunch of information that, in hindsight, seems overwhelming at best and confusing at worst.  

To make the most of speaker sessions, adopt a “less is more” mindset, focusing on quality over quantity.

Select sessions that align closely with your professional goals and interests, allowing you to concentrate your attention more effectively.

During sessions, refrain from frantic note-taking and instead jot down concise, key points that truly resonate with you. Stay engaged by asking thoughtful questions during Q&A sessions or engaging in post-presentation discussions with other attendees. 

This streamlined approach not only maintains your focus but also aids in retaining valuable information, ensuring a more enriching conference experience.

Navigating parties and events

While conference-related parties and events can be enjoyable, they can also be energy-draining if not approached with a self-care plan. To make the most of these occasions, consider the following tips:

  • Be selective: Rather than attempting to attend every event, choose them selectively based on your professional goals and personal interests. For example, a dine-around may be more in line with your professional goals and allow you to network better than a big party with loud music. Or perhaps the big party will help you connect with people socially on the dance floor, making you more approachable later.
  • Set time limits: Pretend you’re Cinderella and establish a personal “pumpkin time.” With this predetermined exit time, you can leave when you feel comfortable and avoid overexerting yourself.
  • Moderate alcohol consumption: Be mindful of alcohol consumption at these events. Limit your alcohol intake to maintain a clear mind and avoid hangovers that can negatively affect the rest of your conference experience.

Effective follow-up

Approaching follow-up from a self-care perspective involves balancing the need to nurture professional connections while also taking care of your well-being. Here’s a self-care-oriented approach:

  • Schedule gradually: To avoid feeling overwhelmed, don’t attempt to follow up with everyone immediately after the conference. I know this sounds counterintuitive, but creating a follow-up schedule that spans several weeks can allow you to maintain meaningful connections without overloading your schedule.
  • Send personalized messages: Rather than sending generic follow-up messages, take the time to craft personalized emails or messages. Reference specific conversations or topics discussed during the conference to show that you value the connection and are genuinely interested in continuing the dialogue.
  • Reflect and adjust: As you’re following up, reflect on how it makes you feel. Does it drain your energy or invigorate it? Does it feel like a chore or an exciting new opportunity? If you find that certain strategies are causing stress or burnout, be open to adjusting your approach and experimenting with different approaches that will work well for you personally.

Key takeaway

By approaching conferences with self-care in mind, you can maintain valuable professional connections without compromising your mental and physical well-being. Balancing your professional goals with your personal needs ensures that you continue to grow and thrive in your career without sacrificing your health.

Christie Osborne @ Catersource + Special Event
See Christie Osborne LIVE at Catersource + The Special Event in Austin, TX this February!

Save your spot now

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.