Taking the time to prepare for a conference – either for work or fun – will significantly affect what you get out of it. Here are a few tips to make sure you enjoy the big show.
A single point of failure
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people sit down at very expensive conferences with only one pen. If it breaks or runs out of ink, you are out of luck. When I was an IT professional, we called this a “single point of failure,” and it’s not good. Identify the potential points of failure in your conference supplies and double up on:
- Pens and paper
- Phone/tablet charger and cables
I have a good reason for keeping cash on hand at a convention. A few years ago I was in San Francisco for a conference and needed some quick cash for a last-minute event. I sprinted to the only ATM I could see only to find it was out of service. Right then, I wished that I had stuffed fifty dollars in my wallet before leaving home.
What to wear
Professional conferences often require more formal attire than a show attended for fun. For example, you’ll need business casual outfits for the workshops in your field, while the Star Trek T-shirt you’ve had since the 90s is perfectly appropriate for the science fiction convention.
Regardless of the type of convention, comfortable shoes are essential. You’re going to be on your feet, maybe for hours. If I’m at a fun, casual event, I’ll wear sneakers. Otherwise, I wear my beloved OluKai shoes, as they’re the most comfortable pair I’ve ever owned. Plus they slip on and off, which is great for getting through security at the airport.
I also dress in layers, as it’s almost impossible to predict how warm or cold a convention center or hotel ball room might be.
No matter what kind of show I’m attending, I always have a battery case for my phone. When I’m at a show I’m taking photos, communicating with colleagues, and sharing on social media. After several hours, my phone is ready to give out. Mophie makes a huge variety of battery cases for several models. I’ve used them for years and have only good things to say.
If the show you’re attending has an official convention app, install it. These often contain itineraries, maps, a description of events, and so on. With that said, also grab a paper program if you can. Remember that whole “single point of failure” thing?
Lastly, I always bring a bag. If the show is a more professional one, I bring a nice-looking messenger bag. If not, I’ll throw on a backpack. It’s nice to be able to throw a bag over your shoulder so you have both hands free to shake hands with colleagues, pick up corporate literature, or take photos of your favorite celebrities.
Many venues restrict certain items (e.g. professional cameras, pocket knives, etc.) so always check the policies before attending. There will often be a bag check upon entry, so factor that time into your day.
Meetings with friends and colleagues
One of the best things about many conventions, is that you get a chance to see people from across the country and from around the world. Before you leave home, connect with as many friends and colleagues as you can and schedule meetings, lunches, and dinners. Add these events your calendar. Conventions tend to be crowded. You may need to connect with your colleagues to designate a specific meeting place so include their contact information in your meeting reminders.
Good luck and have fun.