Yes, I’m retired, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped learning — or attending conferences. Whether it’s the annual Florida Watercolor Society convention, and Urban Sketchers event, Emily’s List conference, or the Agatha Christie International Festival, much of what I learned about making the most of my time at the HR technology conferences of my pre-retirement life still applies. Actually, some of those conference tips apply even more so as my stamina falls victim to aging such that I have to maximize the value received for time invested. So, no matter the focus of the event, here are some tips for attending both your larger personal and professional gatherings. And if you happen to be attending one of my new favorites, by all means say hello, even if we just wave at each other as I ride around on my electric scooter.
If you’re anything like me, from the time you arrive in a conference city, you’re off and running, non-stop, on:
- vendor/industry/colleague/old friends meetings — just getting all of these scheduled is a big part of my preparations for conferences, and of course this becomes much more difficult when you’re operating across cultures/languages/etc.;
- exhibition hall booth visiting — I make a valiant effort to stroll past every booth, but of course that’s not practical if you’re at a major trade show so, at a minimum, make sure to visit all the booths aimed at your particular interests;
- session attending and delivery — and yes, I expect to continue speaking if and when I ever have anything useful to contribute on the subject of non-profit donor development, illustrated journaling, or Golden Age mysteries;
- intense but wonderful hallway and restroom exchanges (do guys do as much substantive chatting and networking in their restrooms as we ladies do?);
- time with valued colleagues and long-standing friends;
- an occasional meal and more than an occasional drink;
- tweetups and meetups; and
- let’s not forget exploring the conference city, especially when it’s a great tourist locale.
So that you get the best possible return on your time and money invested in a conference, I thought you might enjoy a few “get your money’s worth” tips from my personal list.
Tip #10: Get dates for 2019 and 2020 conferences of interest on your calendar and in your budget right now. For example, the Agatha Christie International Festival operates every other September in Torquay, Devon, England. Those dates in 2019 have just been posted, so I’ll be looking for any Golden Age mystery-related conferences in England at about the same time. Especially for international conferences, given the cost of business class flights, even when flying on miles/points, and given two of us traveling together since my wonky legs do a lot better with Ron’s help, I try to combine such conference adventures whenever I can.
#Tip #9: Talk, talk, talk and listen, listen, listen because sharing questions, ideas and experiences with colleagues is the point. Bring your list of the folks you follow most on Twitter or Facebook and make it a point to meet them. Introduce yourself to total strangers (as long as they don’t look too scary), and use something from the program as a conversational opener. And I would definitely get your foreign language skills in gear — a must if you’re attending an international event or hoping to become a global citizen. It’s so empowering to help visitors from abroad find their way around a US-based event and conference city and/or to help yourself navigate an international conference and its locale.
#Tip #8: Bring a swag carrier if you’re flying in and plan to carry your giant stuffed toy home in your lap. Ron can’t imagine coming home from a conference without a new fuzzy friend, but our focus now is on swag we can use, so art supplies at art-related events, travel tools (LOVE those clever plug sets that look like various animals when you get them, all tidy and with everything plug fitting together, but which never go back together again once you pull out one of the plugs to use it), author-signed mysteries, and boating stuff (you can never have enough floaties, those foamy things which you use to keep keys, glasses, and other small objects from sinking when they fly overboard). And if you’re a vendor doing some swag planning, we also love: umbrellas (the rainy season is on right now in south Florida, and you can never have too many), interesting stress reduction toys, cuddly creatures (why doesn’t anyone ever give away big stuffed alligators), shoe bags (those soft ones in which you pack your shoes when traveling), towels (all sizes appreciated), t-shirts (medium for Ron, 1X for me — embarrassing but true), international electrical plug sets (yes, I’m repeating this for emphasis), great bottles of wine, but please no more tablet/phone covers (although popsockets are welcome), mouse accessories or weird candy.
#Tip #7: Leave room in your schedule for serendipity and for nature breaks — well at least nature breaks. I’ve met some amazing women during those nature breaks; I can’t speak for what goes on in the men’s room. Given the sometimes impossible lines at the lady’s rooms at US convention venues, I think the French idea of shared restrooms — common sink area and a collection of stalls into which you slip as they become available — has real merit. Why should women be waiting on line while stalls in a separate men’s room are free? And sharing the sinks would also provide opportunities for mixed gender ad hoc discussions of conference-related topics — or not.
#Tip #6: Pace yourself when it comes to attending sessions, no matter how wonderful the program is. And if it’s an art-related conference where you’re actually creating in those sessions, you’re going to need recovery time to let those creative juices rest. Come prepared to be an active listener, to take notes, to provide a twitterstream for your colleagues who couldn’t attend in person, and to boo any speaker who dares to give you a sales pitch or to trash their competitors. And the best thing we can do to support the hard-working folks who program these conferences and all the volunteers working hard to deliver all of those hosted by non-profit organizations, is to complete those evaluation forms, adding comments as appropriate.
#Tip #5: Don’t try to attend more than three drinks parties after a long day of sessions. I hate missing all those great parties, but my party all night and conference all day years are behind me — and behind many to most of you as well, although some of you aren’t ready to admit it. Save at least a few brain cells for the next day of sessions; you’ll thank me if you do. And for those of you attending conferences in the great wine regions of the world, or those who can afford to drink great wines wherever you are, I’ve learned my lesson about indulging in too much of those wines during the day.
#Tip #4A: Download the conference’s app and learn how to use it. Increasingly, this is the only way to know what’s going on, and the best of these apps support your networking goals, plug you into the best parties, offer suggestions on what sessions may be of greatest interest, etc. I like to support my aging memory with an overall itinerary for myself that includes my travel plans, all meetings with agenda, attendee information and logistics, location of the exhibitors I most want to visit, location of the sessions I most want to attend, details on relevant parties, and more. And while I carry this electronically, I also carry — yes, I really do — a hard copy. No dead phone battery, small screen/tired eyes combo, or last minute change is going to catch me unprepared. But of course, you probably don’t need such backup.
#Tip #4: Plan your conference in advance. With what vendors do you want to schedule extended and/or private discussions? Make those appointments now. What attendees do you want to meet? Do that outreach and arrange those meetings now. Pick your sessions and, because there are too many good ones for just one person, find a buddy with whom you can divide and conquer. Better yet, bring a whole group of fellow travelers to these conferences and cover the ground.
#Tip #3: Carry a water bottle and refill it at every chance you get. Convention center/conference venue climates are designed to dessicate, and they don’t always have enough refreshment stations. Lately I’ve been carrying a protein bar or two in my purse, something you may also want to consider. And I could also suggest that you bring a restorative flask, but you didn’t read that here.
#Tip #2A: Assume that the convention center will be too cold/too hot/too drafty/too whatever, and dress accordingly. Unless it’s the subject of the conference, you may want to lose the flipflops, cutoffs, and anything that reveals parts of you that I’d rather not see. Here I’m showing my personal biases, but even casual does not translate in my book into anything lower down the sartorial scale than clean pressed jeans or shorts, a similarly clean ironed t-shirt with at least short sleeves, most of your tattoos tactfully covered, and shoes. And folks in clown suits may be expected to entertain the other attendees.
#Tip #2: Wear your most comfortable walking shoes. There may be few places to sit except in sessions, and there can be long distances to cover at larger venues. Yes, I know that my younger female friends may want to show off those Manolo D’orsay spikes — the latest in fashionista circles — and I don’t blame you, but be sure you’ve got a suitably designed male colleague at the ready to carry you after the first hour. Having done my fair share of spike heel time, I’m convinced that there’s a causative connection to my now arthritic joints. It doesn’t matter what shoes I’ll be wearing as I flash by on my magic carpet (electric scooter), but you’ll be limping by noon if you don’t select your shoes carefully. And speaking of that magic carpet, we finally found, in an English antique shop, a suitable horn so that I can give fair warning before running over fellow conference goers.
#Tip #1: Like every artist, from rank beginner on up, that I’ve met in various classes or online groups, I’m becoming an art supply junky. I’m focused on illustrated journaling, and I’ve already learned that there’s a VERY large number of possible watercolor colors, watercolor pencil, watercolor sticks, and watercolor markers. Then there are zillions of waterproof drawing pens, watercolor paper journals, palettes (both studio and en plein aire) — are you getting the point? So, rather than buying everything in sight (and this also applies to every book at a mystery book event or every boating tchotchke at a boat show, etc.), it’s not a bad idea to do a little inventory before you go, perhaps even automating that inventory and carrying it on your phone. But since no one is going to do that, including me, Just bring an extra suitcase for your purchases.
Most important: whichever conferences you attend, be sure to say thank you to the conference organizers. They work their butts of all year to give you the best possible experience, and they deserve our gratitude. See you soon….
(Cross-posted @ In Full Bloom)