Preparation for conferences

As I’ll be attending Scotch on the Rocks (Europe’s premier ColdFusion-based conference) next week, this weekend will be all about getting ready for the long voyage from the safety of Kent to the wilds of Edinburgh.

If you’re anything like me, conferences will be booked up months in advance and will rapidly descend on you when you’re completely booked up with a sea of various other things to think about. For my own future reference, as well as for anyone travelling to conferences or other business-related gatherings, here’s my preparation checklist.

Sign up for Lanyrd and register your attendance at the event. Lanyrd is a great way to see who is attending events you’re going to, as well as a useful tool for finding out about other popular conferences that may not yet be on your radar.

Tweet about it – let others know your plans, and engage with other attendees. Twitter can be fantastic for finding out that people you already know are going, and can help you strike up conversations with people in advance of meeting them in person, giving you those all-important conversation ice-breakers. Make sure you’re aware of any official hash tags to follow once you’re actually at the event – you may be able to find open invites to informal gatherings, and it’s generally a great way to get a feel for the buzz around certain sessions or speakers.

Work out which sessions you want to go to – print out a schedule and plan a rough agenda. If nothing catches your eye during certain slots, pick something and go anyway. Worst case scenario is that you’ll learn something new, even if it’s not directly relevant to you. You never know though – the speaker could be brilliant, or you could come away with a new-found enthusiasm for something previously discounted.

Find out about some local bars and restaurants – you may be lucky enough that there are dinners and drinks organised as part of the schedule, but if not it’s always good to be able to gather a group and have some idea of where’s good to go!

Back up your laptop before you go – it’s unfortunate, but everyone knows someone who has had baggage lost on a flight, laptops stolen, or a horrible drunken laptop-meets-beer situation during a conference. Make sure you back up everything crucial before you leave on your trip, and ideally sync anything you’re likely to need during the conference to a service such as Dropbox etc.

Set up your out of office – include details of someone that can deal with any issues if you’re not contactable, and ensure clients know you may take longer than usual to respond to any queries. Assume that things will break as soon as you turn your back on them!

Don’t take too much stuff – This is obviously up to the individual and depends on the type of conference (e.g gotoAndSki(); may require quite a bit more than a day conference in London), but I prefer to travel light. Bear in mind you may have to bring bags to the conference venue (which may or may not have a cloakroom), and you’ll likely come back with lots of free swag in the form of conference bags, tshirts, or even awesome ColdFusion-branded beer if you’re lucky enough.

If you’re headed abroad, print a selection of local maps if you won’t be able to access them online easily. You don’t want to head out with a crowd and then get horribly lost trying to find your way back to your hotel late at night. Similarly…

…Get some taxi numbers for local companies!

Make sure you have some cash on you – I usually try to pay by card for everything because I’m useless at getting cash out, but ensuring you have cash on hand for taxis, tips etc will potentially save on stress and embarrassment.

Have goals for the conference in mind – this could be to learn new things for yourself, take knowledge back to others that didn’t attend the event, meet certain people, get a certain amount of new contacts, or just catch up with friends.

Have some topics of conversation in mind – If you’re not the sort of person that’s good with small talk or lacks confidence to chat to people, having some topics of conversation, or prompts about things you’ve worked on lately that may interest others in mind (or even written in a small notebook) can give you some confidence to start conversations with strangers or join in with groups. You don’t need to stick rigidly to these, and you may not even need them – just having them there could be the confidence boost you need.

If there are people you want to chat to, try to find some pictures of them online in advance – this is a lot easier than peering at everyone’s name badges! Likewise, if you want to be found easily make sure your website has a photo of you somewhere, or your social network profiles such as twitter use a photo of you as the avatar.

Think about getting back from the event – book some time in advance for reviewing/reflecting on everything. You’ll inevitably want some time to research that cool technology you heard about, or build a prototype using the API used to illustrate a session. Use the enthusiasm well!

If you’re the expensing type, have somewhere to keep receipts or to note down expenses if necessary. Having a dedicated section of your wallet will make it a lot easier to organise everything rather than hunting around for that receipt that you KNOW you had… somewhere.

Grab some snacks (non-crunchy!) – it’s not fun being sat in a room, starving hungry, thinking more about lunch than the session you’re in. Keeping a bottle of water and a chocolate bar (or other snack of choice) on you will ensure you munch away quite happily if you need. From experience, crisps are less of a good idea if you don’t want to draw attention to your snacking!

As for packing, don’t forget the following:

  • Business cards
  • Travel details/booking
  • Hotel details/booking
  • Notepad – take lots of notes while you’re there, and share them with your colleagues afterwards. Depending on the type of conference it’s also sometimes good to have a way to explain ideas to others visually, or to sketch ideas that may come into your head
  • Pens (though if you’re anything near as much of a pen fiend as me you’ll get more… a lot more)
  • Laptop
  • Chargers
  • Extension cable if you’re planning on working seriously
  • Plug converters if you’re visiting a foreign country
  • 3G dongle if you’re likely to be without wifi and you can’t use your phone for data
  • Camera – ok, so not everyone will take a camera but for me this is a must
  • USB sticks, especially ones you’re happy to lend or can even give to others pre-loaded with relevant information
  • Daytime clothes
  • Evening clothes – these may want to be a bit dressy depending on the event and who you’re meeting
  • Makeup if you’re that way inclined
  • Any medication you need
  • Toothbrush/toothpaste/toiletaries
  • Painkillers/hangover remedies, especially if you’re coming to Scotch!

For those of you headed to Edinburgh next week, see you there. If you see me, please come and have a chat!