Last week, I ranted a bit about the imperfect conditions of most conference settings. Today, I'd like to suggest ways around some of those issues; I'll also throw in some general tips about how to have a great conference experience.
1. Dress for success
Presenting at your conference? Pack a suit or other professional clothing. You want to look like a pro, so be sure to bring along that suit or outfit that makes you feel like a presenting rock star.
For the non-presenting times, typically business casual will do. Conferences are networking opportunities, and I wouldn't want to meet a potential future employer or colleague while looking super-casual. Remember, first impressions are powerful!
In addition, indoor conference sites are usually super-air-conditioned, so be sure to dress in layers, especially if your conference venue is in a warm place.
2. Ask for a low floor
When reserving your hotel room, ask for a low floor. In my experience, you will typically get the floor or two right above the conference center, which will make moving back and forth between conference and your room an elevator-less experience. In a bigger hotel, you may still need the elevator, but you'll be the first off and the last on, leading to a much shorter ride.
3. Get creative with space
Empty/unused conference rooms make great, quiet workspaces. If there's nothing going on in the evening or early morning in the smaller conference rooms, I will sometimes hunker down in one and get a little work done.
4. Bring your business cards - and keep 'em on you at all times. Make sure that they have your e-mail, Twitter name, Facebook page, Linked In profile, and/or whatever else you want on them.
5. Pack with organization
Packing cubes, collapsible shelves - there are all kinds of nifty packing systems out there that help to keep your things organized and relatively unwrinkled.
6. Plan each day the night before
Which sessions will you attend? If you're presenting, when will you head over to set up? When might be a good time to take a break (and you'll probably need one at some point)? Tap into your experienced colleagues, too, about which presenters are a "don't miss."
7. Don't ask, don't get
I learned this phrase at the conference I was just at, and it will stick with me. Don't be afraid to ask for free internet or fitness center access - if you ask nicely, you may be surprised how often you will get it! One of the attendees that I met last week asked for free internet at this hotel, was initially told "no," asked again nicely, and then they capitulated.
Please feel free to comment on your own experiences, and happy conference-ing!