Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Pack Your Bags: Conferences

There's a conference/convention for everything isn't there?  Sorority, civic and social organizations, PTA, moms, bloggers, yarn, scrapbooking, food, comic books, music - you name it, there's a large gathering of interested folks.

For your next conference, for whatever reason, don't forget to pack these important items that I have found to make it all a little bit more manageable and enjoyable.

Shoes, shoes, comfortable shoes!  I admit, picking out a good pair of shoes could top any list I happen to write (what to take on vacation, what to consider first in an outfit, how to spend your tax refund), but for a conference, this is an important one.  Conference center floors are hard - they are concrete and no, despite what you think you remember, they may not have been carpeted - and the centers themselves are huge.  Even if you insist that you've got to wear cute shoes during the conference sessions (understood), be sure to carry comfortable walking shoes for when those heels have had it.  You don't have to go straight to the sneakers that will mess up your look, go with a nice ballet slipper or loafer, depending on your outfits.  A tangential note: if you are not staying at the conference hotel, stay somewhere in walking distance so you don't have to rely on the conference shuttle, which can often have a long wait.
Shoes to match the outfit and shoes to actually walk around in
Business cards and/or address labels.  Make sure you have business cards, you don't want to be the person jotting down your name and number on a program cover or scrap of paper that's going to get lost in someone's conference bag.  Especially when there are several low-cost, easy options to get your own set of cards.

  • Use an online printer, like VistaPrint, or local office supply store, like Staples or Kinko's, to get  calling cards printed - pretty designs, all the basic info.  (At home, I also tuck them into my kids backpacks when they go to school or on a field trip.)
  • Purchase blank cards at the office supply store and print your own if you don't need a lot or are creative like that.

When you receive a card, be sure to jot a note on the back about the person - why would you contact them again?  I also keep the cards I collect together with a binder clip or in an envelope so they don't get lost in my conference bag.

And the address labels?  For those mailing list sign-up sheets at various vendors because I'm lazy in writing my contact info.  It's also useful for sticking on your various items that you would like to have returned if you lose it.  Use those free sheets you get in the mail from charities or make custom ones on your home printer.

Luggage tag.  If your conference is giving out bags, as most do, you will then be carrying the same bag as the other hundred or thousands of folks there with you.  And someone will invariably pick up the wrong bag.  Identify your bag with a unique luggage tag, a keychain, a strap cover, or something.  Forgot to bring one?  Pick up a give-away from a vendor, paperclip some doo-dad to the handle.  When I've forgotten something,  I end up tying some yarn (which I always have) onto one of my handles.
My sorority conference bag, personalized with paper-clipped on flower and tied-on ribbon
A shawl or cardigan.  You've been there - movie theatre, restaurant, meeting, friend's house - and the air condition is all the sudden on blast and you're freezing.  Throw a light cover in your bag so you're ready for the change in temperature.  Carry a neutral color to match everything, or your bright favorite color just because it makes you happy.

E-devices & apps.  We're all so digital and electronic now - cameras, phones, tablets, iPods - you can't imagine a conference without them.

  • Bring your chargers - Don't we all hate seeing that red battery or "low battery" signal while we're away from home.  You can always find somewhere to charge back up and some meeting places even have lounges specifically for that purpose.
  • Charge and carry your portable charger for when I'm in the middle of the business sessions and can't get to a plug. This is helpful, too, when I'm working at a vendor event for my book, Life in Spades, as the vendor booths often are not supplied with an electrical cord.
  • Download the conference app. The first time I went to conference with an app, I wasn't really sure it would be that useful. But then I realized how much easier it is to pull out my phone and check my schedule to figure out what room I needed to go to next, rather than my program, flip to the right page, read through all the sessions - all while balancing my coffee and not getting jostled by the crowd.

All my chargers and electronics in one easy-to-find place
Snacks.  I am a snacker, check my bag any day and you are likely to find a bag of trailmix or nuts or an energy bar in there.  For conferences, this is a definite, because when I'm hungry, I get really impatient if there's a long line at the snack bar or if they've run out of what I want by the time I get to the counter.  And the long lines are inevitable - hundreds of folks on the same schedule, hungry at the same time.

Coffee.  Ahhh, caffeine.  I carry instant coffee, not my favorite option at home, or bottled, pre-made Starbucks. You have to have a plan when you are among thousands of folks, all trying to get a cup of coffee within the same 10 minutes before the meeting session starts.  It's a back-up to the coffee that should've been in my room or hotel lobby and if I can't get to the coffee shop a block from the conference, which is most likely emptier then the counter near the meeting space.  I've also found liquid creamer in the stay-fresh cartons! Wonderful, because I don't like powdered creamer. This and a coffee pot in my room and I can get my day started.

Lipgloss.  I'm amazed at the difference a swipe of gloss will make on your otherwise, tired, make-up-less face.  So I've got one in my make-up bag, one in my purse, and throw one in a conference bag, just to be sure.

Gather these must-haves for your next conference.  And if I've left off any must-haves, let me know.

 (This post was originally written in 2012, but I've updated a few items, particularly the tech-y notes.)

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Robyn said...

When you are a vendor at a conference a good book/magazine is good for the down time. Also breath mints and water are essential for talking to new potential clients.

Mommyx4 said...

Good point, Robyn, from another conference viewpoint.