At this point, I have attended tons of conferences – and spoken at well over a dozen just this past year. After coming back from the fabulous Blog World Expo in Las Vegas, I thought it was time to share some of my tips for making the most of a conference.
1) Stay Hydrated – Seems simple – but I can’t tell you how easy it is to forget when you are running around. Carry a bottle of water with you at all times. It can be so easy to lose your energy by the end of the day. Stay hydrated, and you will thank yourself when everyone else is falling apart.
2) Hire a Private Driver – If it sounds like an extravagance, it’s not. Private drivers are often more reliable and charge less than taxis. Thanks to my good friend, Sarah Robinson, we found an excellent driver named Alex in Vegas. Not only did he charge less than the taxi drivers, he also knew all the hot spots in the city – and had excellent customer service. It made the conference experience much more pleasant.
3) You Don’t have to Stay Close to your Conference – Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t think you always have to stay close to the conference. Sometimes, at the end of the day – you need some room to breathe and do your own thing. Since, I have to run the business while on the road – I prefer to stay a bit further so I can work without distractions. Also, hotels further from the conference center often cost less. To share another example, during SXSW 09, my friends and I rented a house that was a few minutes away from the conference. It was a great experience – and cheaper for everyone.
4) Get a Rolling Bag for your Laptop – I resisted this idea because I thought it looked geeky. I got over that pretty quickly after I realized how hard it was to tote a few extra pounds around on your shoulder. Make it easy on yourself – get a rolling bag for your laptop. Also, expect free stuff. I find that the more I speak, the more free stuff I get. From t-shirts, to boxes of chocolate almonds – to a director’s chair with Shama.Tv written on it. I kid you not.
5) Take your own Billboard – One way everyone recognizes me at conferences is by looking at my laptop. It has a huge laptop sticker that says Shama.Tv. You can get one for less than 20 bucks at http://www.SticViews.com. It’s a great ice breaker.
6) Plan on Getting Less Done – I always think I am going to get a lot more done at conferences than I do. Always expect the unexpected. Conferences are fun because of the spontaneous things that occur. As a rule, you will always get less done than you think.
7) Don’t do Things for the sake of Networking – You don’t have to go to parties if you don’t like to party. This was an important lesson for me. I am not a party person – by a long shot. And, for the longest time I thought I was missing out on a chance to network because I didn’t attend conference parties. Not so. I realized there are lots of other people who prefer a quiet dinner or fun lunch with a small group rather than drink and dance with a crowd. I am not saying either way is the way to go. I am saying do what works for you, and not what is considered “smart networking.”
8) If you are Speaking, bring Food – I took cupcakes to my last session at the Blog World Expo, and they were such a hit. It made things lively. I gave them away to folks who asked questions, and it added flavor (no pun intended) to the whole session. People like food!
9) Share the Spotlight – Whenever I speak, I try to share my stage with someone else for a bit. It adds variety to the session and gives the other person a chance to provide a different perspective. At Blog World, my good friend Rich Brooks shared his tips for Facebook marketing. If you aren’t speaking, make it a point to connect folks to each other. It allows for win-wins across the board.
10) Encourage Tweeting/Facebooking/Sharing – At Blog World, this goes without saying. But, at other conferences, the rules aren’t so clear. I love encouraging folks to share when I speak, because 1) it allows others to learn and 2) the attendees remember more when they write it down.
11) Bring a Wing-man or Wing-woman – I am pretty lucky that I have Stephanie Cross, our Accounts Supervisor, in tow when I am at a conference or speaking. It makes everything so much easier. Stephanie backs me up for everything. No clicker for the powerpoint? Stephanie will gladly click through the slides for me. Want to attend two different sessions? We each attend one and compare notes. If you have a team member, bring them. If not, buddy up with someone else also attending to support each other.
What are some of your favorite conference tips?