Every time I attend a conference, I learn a few more tricks. It took a few years of trial and error to get it all right – not that there’s a wrong way to attend a conference. Now though, I know a little bit more about saving costs, remembering names and faces, making important connections and keeping myself healthy and safe.
I’d like to share some of my favorite tips for attending conferences.
1. Load up on vitamins and supplements before you go – By the end of the conference, you’re absolutely exhausted and you feel a bad cold coming on. Your throat is raw and raspy and you can’t wait to get on the plane so you can get some sleep. Sound familiar? Every time I attend a conference I return home feeling a wreck. There are no words to describe how bad I need sleep and some meds. So I got smart. This year, for about two weeks before SXSWi, I began taking extra Vitamin C and immunity boosters. These are easily found at the drugstore or supermarket and up your resistance so you don’t succumb to the Conference Flu. When I returned home from Austin, I was still tired, but I wasn’t sick. I think taking care of myself beforehand made all the difference.
2. Pack two pairs of your most comfortable shoes – Are you one of the people who teases me at conferences for walking around in Crocs? Maybe I got the last laugh at the end of the day when I didn’t feel any discomfort after being on my feet for 16 hours though. When I attend conferences I pack two pairs of very practical shoes – plus a pair that’s maybe not so practical for a night on the town. Heels and flip flops have no place on a conference floor. After an hour or two I’m wanting to head back to my hotel and change. Try sneakers or something equally as comfortable. Then if you do put on your strappy sandals or Sunday shoes at night, your feet won’t be as achy and swollen. Plus your feet will definitely thank you in the morning.
3.Save money by staying close to the conference center – Here’s my best money saving tip for conferences: stay close to the convention center. Sometimes folks balk at the price of the closest hotels and stay a mile or two away where rooms might be cheaper. Are you really saving money if you have to pay $20 per cab ride? Before you book your hotel find out how far it is from the conference center and then research how much money it will cost by cab. The more expensive, closer hotel is probably a better option when you figure in your “getting around” costs.
4. Look for all-suite hotels – Here’s another money saving tip. If you can stay at a “suite” hotel such as the Residence Inn or Embassy Suites, by all means, do so. Usually they’re within walking distances to conference centers, plus they have kitchen set ups. Save money on food by keeping stuff in your room. The Residence Inn also offers a free breakfast buffet each morning, so you don’t even have to pay for a hot breakfast. By keeping water, coffee and snacks in your hotel room, you won’t have to pay a premium at the convention center, hotel shop or convenience store.
5. Try a variety of discounts – Most conference attendees receive a hotel discount with their admission. This may not always be the best deal, however. If your favorite hotel or credit card offer points good for a discount, take advantage. I generally use my AAA discount instead of the convention discount because, I can save $50 – $100 per night.
6. Bring an extra carry on bag – I like to travel light. I check my suitcase and only carry my laptop on the plane. On the return trip it’s a little different. Since I leave conferences with a bag filled with freebies. I always come home with books, tshirts and other items that don’t fit into my suitcase. Even if you may not use it, pack an extra bag just in case. This way you don’t have to leave anything behind.
7. You make more connections at dinners and over coffee rather than loud parties – Parties at conferences are the norm but that’s not my scene. They’re loud and you can’t really hold a conversation. If I’m really interested in networking or making a connection with certain people I make plans for dinner, to meet over a cup of coffee or even for a beer in a quieter lounge. By all mean, party if that’s your thing, but you make a better impression when you’re sober in a quieter atmosphere.
8. Don’t forget the sessions – Yes the trade floor is fun. Yes the parties are fun. For me, the best reason to attend a conference is to sit in on the classes, workshops and sessions. Conference sessions are an amazing opportunity to learn from the best gurus in a field or genre. If you really want to be inspired sit in on a session led by your favorite thought leader. You’ll want to head straight to your blog afterward.
9. Write notes on the back of business cards – Here’s where I get lost. I come home from a conference and I have hundreds of business cards. Who gave me what? What did this person look like again? Was I interested in continuing the conversation with this person? When you look at a stack of business cards it can be confusing. So at the last conference I got smart. Whenever I had five spare minutes or when I got back to my hotel room each night I wrote notes on the back of each business card. I jotted down where I met the person, what we talked about and why I’d like to connect again. After the conference it was easy to connect with the folks who interested me the most.
10. Juice up all your toys at the end of each day– Before you go to bed each night, charge up cell phones, laptops, iPods and anything else you want to carry with you. The last thing you want is for the charge to run out of your batteries – and no outlets to spare. I’m also notorious for forgetting to empty out my camera’s memory stick each evening and can’t take pictures the next day. Taking care of these things in the evening before you go to bed, will allow you to waste less time in the morning and will also ensure you don’t miss out on memories or communicating the next day.
What are your favorite tips for attending conferences?