Conference preparation can be imperative to a successful experience at any web conference.
Tis the season for all sorts of web conferences ranging from SXSW, FOWA, Future Of Web Design, Web Directions and countless others, not to mention all the smaller GEO based BarCamp & WordCamp conferences that take place all throughout the entire year. If you are a blogger you are probably familiar with Blogworld Expo and several others. I highly recommend attending at least one or two events near you this year if possible. But how do you prepare for such an event?
I try to attend about 4 events a year. I used to help run the Atlanta Linux Fest for a couple years and it is a totally different ball of wax running a conference versus attending. For this post though we will just focus on attending. Amid the excitement we can often be clouded by how to have a strategic plan of action before even boarding a plane or gassing up for that road trip.
Do your homework
Often times we become so overwhelmed or excited in life that we forget to do some recon before that events we attend. This can be a huge advantage. Often times the location of the event, parties and tracks are posted online long before the event. Take a look at it, plan a strategy and calculate time for travel.
Have a flexible plan, allow for deviations
What I mean by this is that it is important to have a plan of action when attending a conference. After-all you probably paid good money to be there, but allow for those unexpected detours for networking or connecting with someone offline that you may have a friendship with online.
Be Social before, during and after the conference
This I cannot stress enough. Often times the typical social networks like Twitter, Backnoise, Facebook, Foursaure / Gowalla are all being used during a conference. This is awesome but start monitoring hashtag streams of the event at least a week or more before the conference. This will give you an opportunity to get a feel for who is attending and jump in the streams to get to know some of these folks. It’s awesome attending event already knowing 50+ people and being part of the cool kids club right? That’s all it takes is being social and connecting IRL (In Real Life) at the conference.
Bring personal or business cards —Lots of them
This I cannot stress enough. Even though most people who attend conferences have on average 3.8 electronic devices, at the end of the day, a business card is most reliable. You really don’t want to be relying on “bump” to transfer information back and forth. It may not even be a bad idea to put your photo on your card so people remember who you are. Also include your twitter profile, linkedin, website and email address. You could even go as far as to get cards for a specific event made, for instance “we met at SXSWi 2011″ on the back of the card or something. Often times we all have to sift through barrels of cards after a few months, and knowing which event the card came from can be super helpful.
Logistics and Documents
Printing your hotel reservation, car rental information, hotel registration documents and anything else that has to do with getting you to or into a facility is key. Yes, in our minds we think to ourselves “oh, I have it in my email on my iPhone / smartphone” but what we don’t think about is what if you lose your phone? Maybe some tool stole it perhaps. Or, if you didn’t plan well enough you forgot your charger and your phone is dead. It’s always good to keep a hard copy of these documents just in case.
There are so many gadgets to bring, but think about lugging it all around all day long. Camera, cell phone, chargers, laptop, iPad, flipcam, pens, pads, hand lotion, headphones, USB jump drives, sunflower seeds, power strip, llama food can all get tiresome to lug around in your bag all day long. And for you ladies out there you probably carry even more with makeup and all that good stuff. It’s best if you can limit the amount of crap you really need to bring. I try to bring only an iPad, iPhone and business cards. That’s it. I can take pics and ids with my phone. I use evernote to take notes, even record audio and video notes. There is no reason to carry all that other stuff, it just weighs you down and you get hot and sweaty and before you know it you are a storage unit. If it’s not imperative, leave it behind.
Dress nice but also comfortable
So it’s likely you will be moving around a lot, walking all over and moving between warmer and cooler rooms and climates. Not to mention the infamous after parties that a lot of conferences are known for. I suggest wearing something that will server two purposes. Looking good and being comfortable. IF you wear dress shoes all day go ahead and pony up for some Dr. Scholl’s insoles, you will be thanking me later. For the ladies if you must wear heels then I would look at those clear gel inserts to keep those feet comfy for the long haul.
Don’t be a tool when networking
This is a very important lesson that I think more people should learn before attending. How many times have you been at an event and talking to someone and you notice them looking at you but also right past you over your shoulder scanning the room for better networking candidates? If this hasn’t happened to you then that is because you are probably at the top of the food chain for most of the events that you have attended. If there is anything I have learned when it comes to networking it’s to make sure you are giving your undivided attention to the person or group of people you are conversing with. Don’t be a tool.
Post Mord em
As you converse with new and familiar faces, if they give you a card, write something on the back of it that will remind you later what the context of the conversation was. This will be super helpful and increase your response rate when connecting online in the weeks to come. I like to shoot people an email that says it was nice getting to know them and bring up that one topic that you were discussing that will help trigger the memory for them. Also, do not add anyone’s email to ANY of your email spam newsletters. It’s wrong, don’t do it. Instead send a link in the direct email asking if they’d be interested in subscribing to your newsletter, again, don’t be a tool.
Well I hope this helps in some planning preparations for any upcoming conferences you plan on attending. Please feel free to share what you do when you are in the planning stages for an upcoming event.