Conferences can be very worthwhile, both for business and pleasure. You look forward to the event and can't wait to see friends or colleagues you haven't seen in a while.
I attend many conferences each year, both trade shows and meetings. Whether I am a speaker or an attendee, I have learned how to be well prepared for the event.
Here are 7 things to do before heading to your next conference that will ease some of the challenges and help you enjoy your time there:
- Pack a foldable tote bag into your luggage. This is great for schlepping home binders of materials or other items collected at the conference. Alternative: Ask your hotel or a nearby FedEx Kinko's to have your extras shipped home.
- Pack layers of clothing. The number one complaint at conferences is the room is either too hot or too cold. Meeting rooms are usually kept cooler than many of us would like (probably to keep us awake!) so bring a shawl or sweater.
- Plan ahead for special meals. Advise your meeting planner ahead of time for any special meal requirements. With sufficient notice, they can usually work with the hotel or other venue to meet your needs.
- Bring lots of business cards. Great for networking opportunities. For business cards received, make a note on the back of the card as to the date and conference you're attending, and notes about the person you'd like to remember. Or, since many people have print on both sides of their business cards, keep a small notebook with you to jot down this information, then add it to your contact management system later.
- Bring a couple midday snacks. Items such as protein bars, nuts, apricots, bananas and grapes are good choices if you'll be sitting in all-day meetings because they're not too messy or noisy to eat. Apples, pears and oranges are good if you'll be walking around a conference floor where you can wash your hands afterwards.
- Pack comfortable shoes. It is easy to underestimate how much walking you will be doing. Whether it's up and down the aisles of a trade show, a long hike to the hotel's meeting room, or an evening walk to a restaurant, it's common to be walking much more than planned. I remember attending a conference at the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas and it seemed like I walked a mile to their conference center, and in uncomfortable shoes this can seem even longer!
- Plan for irregular hours. Most meetings do not run 9am – 5pm. Many begin early with a group breakfast, may not stop for lunch until 1pm, and continue into the evenings. Conferences can tend to take over your entire day when you add together the meeting, networking time and time spent with friends and colleagues. Once you know the hours set for the conference, plan times for calling home to talk with your family. Make time for yourself as well, whether it's working out, enjoying spa time or just relaxing.
And here's a bonus tip: Bring a water bottle. Water is your best friend at a conference. Many conferences have water available in small cups but with a bottle, there is less need to fill up frequently.
Hopefully these tips will help you be prepared for a comfortable and enjoyable conference, one that accomplishes all the reasons you're attending as well as gives you some private time to relax, unwind and stay connected with your loved ones.
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