Every year I update this list of tips based on the hundreds of conferences I have attended—and the feedback and tips of friends and colleagues. As we navigate the main conference season, it’s time to put them out there again. I’ve got so many that I’m putting them into two posts. Here’s Part 1.
- Turn your cell phone off or set it to vibrate. Relate to folks face to face!
- Include aspirin, Advil or ibuprofen, water bottle (conference venues tend to be very dry).
- Layer your clothing so that you can go from frigid air conditioning to high humidity (temperatures and room comfort varies widely and there is precious little that conference organizers can do about that). Plan ahead.
- Bring at least two pairs of shoes (you’ll need the change and variety!).
- Bring an extra bag for bringing stuff home or leave room (clothes expand somehow while away!).
- Bring an office prepaid courier slip to courier brochures and materials back to the office.
- You MUST have business cards – either make your own on the laser printer or photocopier or have extras made up by your employer.
- Wear your nametag high so people can see it (not around your waist!). Take it off when you leave the venues.
- Upon arrival, orient yourself. Familiarize yourself with all of the conference locations (conference centre, hotels, and special events locations). KNOW where the coffee is – you’ll be surprised how much you’ll want it.
- Nothing’s more frustrating than being lost in a strange place. If you’re lost – ask a local. There’s usually a local map in the conference program – study it. It’s amazing how confusing big conference centres can be! It’s easy to get turned around. For safety’s sake – know where you are and where you’re going. Look at the floor plans in your program; they give you a bird’s eye view of what’s usually not a simple grid floor plan. Figure out the room naming and numbering conventions.
- If you’re on a restricted budget, bring your own water and snacks. There’s always a local store nearby and you can buy it at local prices. Conference snack bar prices are on a par with airport prices.
Before the Conference
- Should you wish to save on accommodation cost, use your discussion lists or blog to find a potential roommate.
- Check out the local city’s web site for tourists. Book or schedule a few side trips as well. Exciting tours have been scheduled for delegates and their guests.
- If you can, add a vacation day or two on to the conference and enjoy the local sights or side tours.
- Look at the program before you get there and plan your day. A simple Word or Excel document makes it a lot easier. Sometimes there’s a great conference time-planner app on the association site.
- Make appointments in advance with those vendors you must see. Make or use an exhibit hall map in advance so you ‘work’ the hall strategically. It will result in a better conversation if you warn your vendors in advance that you want a deeper meeting.
- If you work in a specialized area with information pros from around the nation, conferences are a great place to meet each other – for a meeting, coffee, lunch, dinner, drink, or just to say hi! Give these folks an e-mail or phone call and see if they’re going to the conference. Networking is so much richer when you have seen your closest contact’s face (insert Internet irony here).
- Make your schedule in advance (at least at the start of the day, but earlier if possible). Include all of the options you might like so that if one desired session is cancelled or doesn’t meet your expectations you can hop over to another. Make sure you note the room locations so you can evaluate how much time you have to get there between sessions.
- Plan to attend the First Timers’ session if you’re a first-timer to make a few new friends and get an orientation! Every conference has its culture and it is worth learning it early to get value for money.
- If a session isn’t meeting your needs, leave. Your time at this conference is important and you should get the most out of your investment in time, effort and money. If you don’t see another session you want, that means head for the Exhibits.
- Generally, you are ‘allowed’ to attend all sessions, including business meetings of the Association, divisions, and committees unless these are specifically marked ‘in camera’ or ‘executive session’. Our associations are very open associations and you should see how your association works for you. It’s also a great way to find out what you might like to get involved in and volunteer.
- Make sure you get your tickets early for ticketed events. If you miss out on one event that you desperately want to attend—check out the message board area where there is often a ticket exchange for extra tickets.
- If you attend a business meeting and wish to be heard on an issue, you have a right to speak as long as you are in order. Just ask permission and you will be heard. If not, get out your Rules and make them work for you.
- If you want a good seat at a session, arrive a little early. If you’re late, have a little courage and take a seat up front. Don’t hover and shuffle at the back of the room or in the door.
- Always try to go to the opening plenary—then you’ll have something to talk about with new people you meet for the rest of the conference. The Plenaries are designed to be engaging and challenging. Don’t pre-judge the speaker – they’re almost always thought-provoking.
- Evaluate programs from many directions – speaker, topic, title, blurb, sponsor, or convenor. If you’re not sure it’s for you, the speaker can usually be asked what level they will be speaking at just before the session. Then again, even if you’re at an advanced level on a certain topic it’s always useful to learn how to communicate the topic at an introductory level so you can use it for users and management!
- Don’t forget to take advantage of pre-conference workshops. You get deeper training there than in some sessions designed to provide highlights.
Stephen Abram is a popular Lucidea Webinars presenter and consultant. He is the past president of SLA, and the Canadian and Ontario Library Associations. He is the CEO of Lighthouse Consulting and the executive director of the Federation of Ontario Public Libraries. Read more of Stephen’s blog posts for Lucidea, and check out his book from Lucidea Press, Succeeding in the World of Special Librarianship.
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