Success! You’ve finally managed to get a spot on the conference you’ve been so keen to attend. After a few celebratory tweets and bit of checking of the conference website, you mark the date in your diary and go back to your usual routine. Before you know it, time has flown and the conference is here. As someone who has attended many conferences over the years, I know that sometimes it’s your own planning (or lack thereof) rather than the conference planning that influences your conference experience.
I’m not going to give advice on researching presenters or maximising networking opportunities, though of course this is useful. I want to suggest some very basic things that may seem like common sense but in the last minute rush and excitement of heading to the conference, are easily forgotten.
1. Charge It!
It goes without saying that you should make sure all of your devices are fully charged before you get to the conference. It goes without saying yet it’s common when you’re in conversation with someone at a conference to see their eyes furtively sliding around the room looking for power points. Even if you fully charge your phone, laptop or camera on the morning of the conference, all that note taking, hashtagging and those photo ops will drain your battery quicker than a glass of Fanta at a six year old’s birthday party. Some things to think about before you head out:
- bring your charger with you so if there are power outlets, you can top up (but be thoughtful of other delegates too and don’t hog the power source)
- bring a spare (charged) battery if you have one
- turn off power hungry apps you don’t need on the day. Once you’ve found the venue on Google Maps, checked in on Yelp!, Skyped your kids and checked in for your flight, turn the apps off so they are not running in the background, slowly draining the battery. Turn off bluetooth and wifi if you don’t need them as they will drain the battery even if you’re not using them.
- slow down on the tweeting and instagramming and come up for air to listen to what the speakers are saying
2. Note It!
There’s nothing worse than heading off somewhere and finding out the details you want are not at your finger tips. Take the time record your booking information, addresses, start and finish times in your device or notebook. Though you hope not to use them, noting the emergency contacts is also a good idea as things do crop up.
Despite having a myriad of devices to store information on, I wouldn’t attend a conference without a good old pen and notebook. This allows me to do small drawings, annotate hand outs and provides a back up to the devices, ‘just in case’.
3. Print It!
Whilst I’ve just spent the last 5 minutes telling you how important it is to have your technology all set up, I’m now going to tell you to print a piece of paper. How incredibly old fashioned of me! Sometimes a piece of paper is still the most convenient. Do you know where your hotel is? Do you know where the venue is? How about if you need to ask someone how to get to from A-B? Not everything is on Google Maps or perhaps the person you’re asking wants to make a note for you. If you are unfamiliar with where you need to be or how to get there, printing a map before you head off can save you lots of stress.
4. Flaunt It!
You’re at the conference for a reason. It may be to learn new skills or techniques, to promote your business or product or to meet like-minded participants. Whatever the reason, at some stage during the conference it’s likely that someone is going to ask for your contact details or social media handles. Do you know how difficult it is to spell out tiffinbitesizedfoodadventuresdotcomdotau and still have people with you at the end of the sentence? The way around this is to get yourself some business cards. They can have as little or as much information on them as you like but in the very least should list your real name, a contact (phone or email) and website address, if you have one.
Business cards display your personality and product in a bite sized way. These days, you buy your cards online from any number of vendors, and some companies, such as Vistaprint, offer basic cards using their own designs for free, you just pay postage. If you want to customise the card or use your own logo or photos, there will be a charge. There’s nothing to stop you changing your design and keeping it interesting, each time you order. I use Zazzle from the US as I like the size of their chubby and skinny cards for something a bit different but there are heaps of options and there’s sure to be one to suit your personality. You need to allow yourself time to have the cards delivered.
Left it Too Late? If you’ve missed the boat for delivery, it’s time to download a business card template, get creative and then print them off at home or at a stationery store like Officeworks. Avery have a good set of free business card templates you can download and customise including a few with patterns and illustrations. A home printed business card can still look snazzy and is certainly an improvement on no business card at all.
5. Drink It!
You know those useless water bottles you’re given at the gym as a gift for signing up and as giveaways by phone companies? The ones that are cluttering your corner cupboard? Now is the time to press one in to service.
With all of the catering and endless cups of coffee on offer, sometimes a glass of water is the last thing on your mind. Keeping hydrated assists with concentration and makes sure you can last the distance of a long conference day. If you’re a regular imbiber, you may find yourself standing near the water jugs at break time gulping down one small tumbler at a time. Be self-sufficient and bring a bottle you can refill and have with you during the day. They are light to pack and usually hold at least a thirst quenching 750ml water so you won’t have to worry if the carafe hasn’t been refilled.
6. Pack It!
It there’s one thing I can guarantee at a conference, it’s that you will come away with more than you arrived with. It could be handouts, free gifts, publications, folders or prizes. Pack a sturdy canvas bag or even better, an almost bottomless Envirosax, so you can carry things from the venue to your home, hotel or the airport and if necessary, take on board as carry on. The last business conference I went to in Sydney was directly opposite the Queen Victoria Building. At lunch time I did a little retail therapy in Victoria’s Basement and ended up with two coffee plungers and a cake rack. Let me tell you, I was very happy that I was a devotee of tip 6 and had my Envirosax on hand to lug it back to the hotel.
Some time taken to get organised before the day will hopefully mean you can focus on conference content, getting to know fellow delegates and generally enjoying yourself rather than worrying about where you can get your next power hit. The devil’s in the detail.
What are your tips and ‘must haves’ when you’re preparing for a conference? Leave me a note in the comments.