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Dress for Success: 5 Tips on How to Best Represent Your Organization at a Conference

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If you’re like me and attend conferences year round, when packing you ask yourself, “What should I wear?” This is the perennial question, and the answer should differ based on many factors. While many of us, myself included, have go-to outfits for different situations, it’s important to think about who you’ll meet while onsite, your role, and how you want to be perceived.

I recently attended the ASAE Annual Conference in Chicago, and I wanted to share some wardrobe and conference accessory tips. There are several elements which I consider:

  • At this conference I was proudly representing MCI USA, and I wanted everyone to know that—without them having to look closely at my name badge. Thus, you’ll see that I replaced the standard lanyard with an MCI USA lanyard and I’m also wearing the MCI pin on my lapel.
  • It’s important to gauge the dress code and/or level of formality prior to each event you attend. While my fashion-forward, distressed jeans may not be appropriate in all conference settings, this pair appealed to the conference’s future focused and down-to-earth vibe and was a great choice for this event. Use your best judgement about whether to wear jeans, and about the types of jeans that may or may not be suitable. When in doubt, jeans in a dark, unmarred wash would be the safest bet. While I’m not wearing a suit for this conference, I still look professional even in jeans. I am wearing a black blouse, grey blazer, and high heels (which are comfortable enough to wear all day while walking the exhibit floor and convention center).
  • Badge(s). ASAE offers many ribbons to affix to the bottom of a name badge. Some people like to affix multiple ribbons; I prefer to affix the ribbon(s) of most value to my role at the conference and which denote categories that aren’t already represented by any pins I wear. For example, there are ribbons for ASAE volunteer, CAE, and Foundation donor. I chose not to affix those ribbons and instead use the pins.
  • Additional Badge. I also give to the ASAE Foundation. Anyone giving at the Silver level or above receives a metal badge to identify themselves as a VIP. While I felt self-conscious wearing this additional badge, I soon came to see it as a conversation starter, as people kept asking me, “What is your VIP badge?” It was a great opportunity to share the value and benefit of giving to the ASAE Foundation.
  • Even during a long conference when there are many late nights and early mornings, a friendly smile is one of the most important parts of any outfit.

While these are some notes about what to wear during the event, it’s also important to consider your attire when flying to the location. As soon as you arrive at the airport, you are representing your organization and it’s important to look professional. When I fly for work, I almost always wear high heels and a blazer. For longer flights, I might wear flat shoes, but I expect to be seen and I plan my outfit accordingly. For example, on a recent flight to India, my conference vice-chair was on the same flight as me from Paris to Bangalore, and I was quite happy that I looked as presentable as possible following a red-eye flight.

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