The Five Stages of Attending a Conference / by Leslie

Attending a conference is a big deal for me. Leaving my family, engaging with smart people and travelling on an airplane all add up to a perfect storm of mental states. They are: Excitement & Anticipation, Anxiety & Nervousness, Inspiration & Motivation, Exhaustion & Depression and Determination & Focus. I go through each one every time I go away and I tend to forget that they are coming. I am currently stuck in Exhaustion after an amazing weekend at the Mom 2.0 Summit in Key Biscayne, wondering if it was all a dream. It seems that I will need a little more sleep and processing to get to Determination, but for now, let's look a little closer at each one.

In this picture I am fully and completely in Stage Three. Inspiration is awesome.

Stage One: Excitement & Anticipation

This is the fantastic feeling you get when you decide to attend a conference and particularly after you have booked your travel and hotel. It is exhilarating and filled with all the positive anticipation of wonderful things to come. If you have never attended a conference, this stage is fairly short, as you don't know what to expect and you will quickly get to stage two, but if you have been to a conference before and you know what is to come, you can linger here for while. Use the energy of this stage to read everything on the conference web site, print out your schedule and read up on the speakers. The more homework you do before the conference actually starts, the better prepared you will be for all the people you will be meeting. I love to feel like I can hit the ground running once I get there and not have to spend too much time getting oriented.

Stage Two: Anxiety & Nervousness

This stage is wicked for anyone who has not been to a conference before, but it can be hard even for those who have been a few times. Plane travel can make people anxious, or leaving your family. Those attendees who are speaking or volunteering may be anxious about what it is they need to contribute. Whatever your experience, most everyone will feel this to some degree over some part of attending a conference. Your coping skills (and medications!) will determine how you fair here, but generally it dissipates once you get into the swing of the conference or deliver your talk. Keep in mind that it may manifest in different ways. Irrationally obsessing over what you will wear? You are anxious and should do a shot a tequila. Telling yourself no one is going to like you? You are anxious and need a pep talk from the person you love the most. Freaking out that you are too fat/shy/socially-inept? You are anxious and need a shot of tequila AND a pep talk from the person you love the most. Seriously though? You need to know that this is the single most welcoming and supportive community out there.

Stage Three: Inspiration & Motivation

This is THE MOST thrilling part of the process and if it is a good conference you will feel this from the first speaker all the way to the last. Mom 2.0 Summit had this in ABUNDANCE. Literally everyone I spoke to was feeling inspired by this conference. It should just be called the Inspiring Women Conference. The panels were filled with women who had excellent stories to tell about building businesses, or following their passions, or fighting against the flow to achieve success. Even if you only saw one panel and then went to the pool, you would have, at the very least, felt inspired to do more/better by the breath-taking location (Key Biscayne/Miami) and the attentive and gracious staff (the Ritz-Carlton rocks!) The inspiration and motivation stage usually lasts a few days after you return home, which is enough time to follow up with the amazing people you met and write down all your fabulous plans for how you will change the world. Important note: you really should get those things done BEFORE stage four hits, so don't delay! You can recover some of the inspiration in stage five, but it's much better to write it all down when you are in the midst of it.

Stage Four: Exhaustion & Depression

This is the inevitable crash that comes along with the high of a conference. You may find yourself wondering who these screaming children are and how you could have fallen asleep with your face on the hardwood floor. (That happened to me yesterday, for real.) This is a scary stage because you will find yourself wondering if it was all just a dream (it wasn't), if you really did talk to all those amazing women you have admired forever (you did), if somehow life was special for just those few days and now that you are back in your normal life nothing has changed (things have changed, trust me). You may feel like an imposter (you aren't), or guilty for indulging in yourself (don't give in to the guilt). You may be overwhelmed with so much good stuff that you will not be able to write about it. (This is ME! Hello!) DO NOT linger here. Do whatever you can to get out of this stage. Sleep. Take a break from the computer. Hug your kids. Get dirty in the garden. Write about the five stages of attending a conference! Accept that life cannot possibly be a conference all the time. Give yourself the time and space to recover from all that awesomeness. Remember that this will pass and soon you will be in a better place. Stage five!

Stage Five: Determination & Focus

This is where we are all striving to be, the end place for all these ups and downs. We work hard and risk ourselves to get to a place where we know EXACTLY what it is that we have to do. We have a plan, those people that we made connections with begin to return the energy, and the seeds that were planted when were at the conference in those moments of inspiration will start to grow and blossom. This stage may not arrive for a few weeks post-conference, but with luck, this is the stage in which we spend the most time. It is the place with the hardest work, but this is what we are all looking for when we go to these events. Nothing gets done without determination and focus, so you must BE SURE to get yourself to this stage. All that inspiration you felt? It pushes you to dream great things, but those women who are actually doing something about it, whatever *IT* is, have gotten to this fantastic place of determination and focus and are acting on their dreams. You can get here too and I'll tell you a little secret, the more people that are here, working together, the better *IT* is. So come with us to the land of determination and focus and put something good into the world! (BTW - It is when this stage begins to wear off, that we need to start the process all over again. I'll be at BlogHer in August and Camp Mighty in November, you?)

After I get myself out of exhaustion and depression (I think I need the weekend) I will be able to write about the entire experience in a much clearer way. I did cover two of the break out sessions during the conference. I was so thrilled to be a live blogger (you can see all the live blogging posts here) and I was proud of myself for being able to write about those specific sessions in the midst of everything going on. It was a different rhythm for me, compared to when I attended ALT Summit, but I LOVED it. Being a part of the team was awesome and I met many wonderful people because I was involved with everything going on. I really enjoyed community building and supporting the amazing women who put this conference on. I have a bunch of pictures too, although I am a little disappointed with how some of them turned out. My priority certainly wasn't taking pictures on this trip and it shows, but that's ok. I'm going to post the blurry picture that I took of Karen and Laura anyway, because they are amazing and beautiful (even when blurry) and I love them, dammit! (But ladies? Can I have a do over please?)

Stayed tuned for at least one more post about the conference from me, probably next week. If you have any tips for getting out of the post conference crash, I'd love to hear it!