When J dropped me off at the airport last Wednesday, I was feeling a mix between excitement for my impending trip to Chicago and some separation anxiety. I was traveling to represent my company at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting; an event attended by more than 25,000 oncology professionals worldwide with a focus on cutting-edge scientific content. This was my chance to broaden my network and build relationships with colleagues across the company. So amidst the excitement at this remarkable opportunity I was about to embark upon, why was I feeling a fear of failing miserably?
I truly believe that business travel makes you a better employee and leader. I absolutely love to explore new areas while traveling. The challenge of traveling for business is that you are working longer hours and need to be somewhere every hour of the day. Despite these barriers, there are strategies you can use to help you find more efficiency and pleasure in business travel.
1. Maximize Your Networking Opportunities
Traveling for work offers fantastic opportunities to meet incredible people. If you see someone you haven’t met yet, introduce yourself and have a fifteen second elevator speech prepared in your mind in case that person asks what you do. If you’re shy or have difficulty initiating conversations, go with something simple like, “Hi, I don’t think we’ve met yet…”
It’s likely that the people you are introducing yourself to have heard about you as well and would like the opportunity to get to know you. Building these relationships now will increase your exposure and help you grow in an organic way. It’s not easy to make yourself vulnerable and try to make an impression with colleagues that may have much more experience than you. However, these introductions will connect you to others and provide valuable insight for your career.
2. Venture Out Socially With Your Co-workers
Business travel may seem lonely but you’re never actually alone. Use this time to get to know your co-workers in a social setting. Don’t be afraid to go out for a drink or catch a baseball game after a long day at work. I’ve found that when you chat with colleagues outside the office, you can get to know them on a more meaningful level. The standard workday is typically packed with meetings and assignments that need to be completed. After work, people are often less guarded and have more time to open up to you if trust has been established. You may actually find yourself making friends and getting to know a side of someone that you didn’t necessarily see by the water cooler.
3. Dress the Part
Someone who dresses appropriately in any setting, particularly conferences, immediately demands respect. I have a tendency to over pack so on my latest trip, I decided to be strategic about what I included in my suitcase. I packed four dresses, a suit, and two blouses. The suit was a necessity because I could also pair the blazer with a dress or wear the pants with a professional blouse. Save yourself the time and energy of checking a bag by packing light and moving easily throughout the airport. You can minimize your wait time and maximize your packing space without exceeding the size limits by using a compact rolling suitcase for clothes and a shoulder bag for magazines, books, and personal items.
4. Take Advantage of Time Spent Waiting
If you are waiting in line, it can be easy to just stand there and wait until it’s your turn to proceed. However, these in between time periods of waiting for a delayed flight or shuffling through a security line can actually be quite productive. These are great opportunities to catch up on your emails, prepare for meetings, mentally practice your presentation, and anything else that can be handled on a mobile device or hard copy. If you don’t have any work related tasks to accomplish, read a book or magazine in line to help you unwind.
5. Stay organized
Business travel sounds glamorous. Yet when reality sets in and you’re rushing from one meeting to another and attempting to figure out the complex subway map of your temporary destination, you quickly realize that you need some organization in your life. Be prepared by being informed about your meetings, presentations, and anything else you need to know to truly maximize your trip.
Two years ago, I traveled to California to apply for fellowships and had multiple rounds of interviews from morning to evening with various companies. If a particular interview went well, candidates would be invited to an evening reception. At the end of the week, successful candidates would go on to on-site interviews. Remaining organized during this conference was critical to progressing through each step. Whether it was leaving an hour in the day to hand write thank you cards or 15 minutes to grab a cup of coffee, setting my schedule and knowing who I needed to meet with in advance helped me to remain calm and present the best version of myself to potential employers.
You no longer have to choose between business or pleasure when traveling for work. You can make your trip enjoyable by making time to meet new people, see new sights, and get to know your co-workers outside of the office. Introduce yourself to the director of your group, go for a walk instead of taking a nap, or go for a drink instead of going to bed early. Make the most of your experiences by absorbing your surroundings and learning as much as you possibly can, especially if you are in the early stages of your career. There is so much you can learn about your industry and even yourself when you travel for work.
After embracing J for a solid sixty seconds, I grabbed my rolling suitcase and headed towards the airport entrance, only turning around once to smile and wave goodbye. I decided that I would make the most of this trip and truly step outside my comfort zone. Looking back two weeks later, I’m so glad that I didn’t let fear of the unknown stop me from embracing the moment. You truly never know who you are going to meet and what kind of repercussions the encounter could have on your life.
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