Five Tips for Making the Most of a Conference

Pikes Peak Writers recently hosting our second annual Write Your Heart Out Event, which is a free half-day showcase of what to expect at our annual Pikes Peak Writers Conference. Congrats to Shannon and her staff of volunteers for putting together a fantastic event!

I had prepared a series of interludes between the main speakers in which I was going to cover five tips for making the most of a conference. When we sat down to hash out speaker order, timings, and such, it turned out we were going to be over our allotted time for the event. My five tips was removed from the programming, so we didn’t go over.

So my humongous time and energy efforts don’t go to waste, I’m posting the tips here…. Okay… I can’t lie. My “humongous” efforts boil down to a single side of a 3×5 index card. :)

Here are the tips for you to use to get the most out of your conference experience:

1) Business Cards

PPWC has around 300 attendees, staff, and faculty movin’ and shakin’ through the rooms and hallways. You’re going to meet quite a few of them. You’re going to connect with some, and will want to maintain those connections long-term. Let’s assume you want to foster those long-term connections with a mere 15% of the people there, that’s about 60 people. In addition to meeting people, you’re going to sessions, meals, events, and BarCon in the after hours. That’s too much for your brain to take in and lock down tight. Everyone else is in the same boat. I don’t care how interesting and wonderful you are. If you don’t have something to hand to your new connections, they’re going to have a hard time remembering you in full detail.

To this end, you need business cards. Here are my rules for business cards.

  • Matte, white (or ecrue or eggshell or something like that) card stock. If it’s black or glossy, pens won’t work too well. If the other person wants to jot a mnemonic note, it’s impossible unless your base cardstock supports that.
  • Clear text with only the contact information you’re comfortable giving a stranger. I have web site, Facebook, Twitter, and email. My phone number is not on my business cards. If I want someone to have it, I write it on the back.
  • Be professional in the layout and imagery on the card. These are business cards after all.
  • An image/icon/logo/photo is fine, but remember to keep it simple. This will keep your costs down, and that “perfect” headshot of yours will look like crap scaled down to a small picture on the business card. Save your money and go with a logo/icon of something the recipient will remember.
  • Have a few in your wallet. Have even more in your briefcase/backpack/purse/messenger bag. Have even more in your luggage. Have even more in your room. You might run out of the “easy to grab” pile and will have to restock. I also stash a few in my Nook, my laptop case, and other vitals that I might lose track of during the conference. These “stashed cards” are invaluable at ensuring I have the best chance possible to have my item(s) returned to me.

2) Avoid ConCrud

ConCrud. Yeah. It’s real. You’re already taking vacation time to attend a conference. Don’t burn more of it while you recover from that mystery bug you picked up while shaking peoples’ hands. There’s lots of that going on, and with each handshake you up your chances of getting a bug. I’m not trying to scare you into a weird phobia of touching people. It’s just a fact you should be aware of. There are some things you can do to avoid ConCrud:

  • Hydrate — Water intake (especially at altitude) will help keep your immune system purring along smoothly.
  • Hand Sanitizer — A small bottle of this stuff can go a long way. Keep a stash of some spare bottles in your room or bag.
  • Wash Your Hands — I sometimes hit the bathroom just to wash my hands. I use lots of soap and get the water as hot as I can stand it.

3) 3-2-1 Rule

You’re going to be running around like crazy as you meet new people, find old friends, attend wonderful sessions, and stay up way too late at the bar and the after-hours parties in the rooms. It’s a wonder you’ll get any sleep at all. Well, it’s vital for you to take care of yourself. Nothing sucks more than paying for three, four, or even five days of programming only to bonk hard on the next-to-last-day and spend the last day commiserating in your hotel room.

To this effect, I have my 3-2-1 rule. I really don’t remember where I picked this up from. If someone knows the origin of this rule, please let me know, and I’ll gladly give credit where credit is due.

Three hours of sleep per 24 hours — minimum. (Get more if you can.)

Two meals per 24 hours — minimum. (Guess what? PPWC provides these!)

One shower per 24 hours — minimum. (This last rule is not for your benefit! It’s for everyone else!)

4) Note Taking Devices

I take tons of notes at conferences. I’m “old school” in that I use pen and paper. At the 2012 PPWC, I was in an all-day session with Donald Maass as a speaker. I had a brand new gel pen, and a brand new spiral notebook. There were about 40 minutes left in his teaching for the day when my pen just stopped working. I don’t know if it jammed, gunked up, ran dry, or what. I didn’t care. What I cared about was capture as much of Donald’s brilliance as I could. I jammed my hand into my messenger bag and come up with a writing device…. A Big Fat Sharpie. Crud. Well, the last 8-9 pages of my notes from that day were written in Big Fat Sharpie. Hah! My point? Keep two writing devices immediately handy and plenty of paper. I actually recommend having two pens per day of the event already in your bag. If you don’t go through them all, then you have some spare pens for the next conference.

If you’re the type that has to take notes on an electronic device, don’t assume you’ll be able to plug it in. Actually, assume the opposite. Power cords are trip hazards. This means they are generally not allowed within the sessions. Make sure your laptop, tablet, phone, or whatever, has the battery oomph to last 3-4 hours with continual use.

5) Relax

Now for the most important rule. RELAX! You’re going to be running at an engine’s equivalent of “red line” for many days without much time to stop and breathe. Force yourself to skip a session. Maybe you chill in your room for 20 minutes and you get to BarCon late. That’s okay. Endurance racers don’t spring (or red line their engines) for the entire race. It’s a pacing thing. Find your comfortable pace and stick with it. If you find yourself dragging a little, take a small break. It’s okay to miss a session or two during a 3-4 day event. Maybe more if the event is 5-6 days in length. It’s okay to show up late to BarCon. You also don’t have to shutdown the bar and be the last to stumble to your room. Different people have different endurance capacities. Find yours, and stick to it. There’s no need for you to force yourself to keep up with someone that has those abnormally huge energy reserves.

I hope this post helps someone out there get more out of a conference!

If you have any tips of your own, drop them in the comments. I’d love to see what folks have to say.


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