In light of interactive conferences & festivals everywhere, I’ve compiled a list of things to know when attending. This goods detailed below can be applied to just about any conference, whether it’s SXSW, a local networking shindig, or the Southern Baptist Convention.
1. Remember to pack your self-esteem and lip gloss.
The entire purpose behind attending a conference is to get away from your life. Let’s face it. It’s a vacation, but it might not seem like it when you’re knee-deep in Square Pegs emotions. Should I really go over to that table of women, who kinda seem engrossed, and just introduce myself? Really? Just like that? Most self-helpers would encourage you: “YES! You’re here to network, to learn, and to grow. So push yourself.” I say, “Only if you’re in the mood. Don’t force yourself. Instead, be open and aware of all the other stragglers who don’t seem to know anyone. Then offer them candy. Or alcohol.
2. If #1 doesn’t work, there’s liquid courage.
You need a strategy. When getting ready to start your day, play music and dance around your hotel room. We’re talking ABBA here. You need to feel confident… and loose. Stock up on the miniature bottles offered on your flight or raid your hotel room’s mini bar. There’s an ice machine on every floor for a reason. Chill that Sauvignon, and sip as you’re getting ready in your room. It’s good to let your guard down a little. Just make sure to leave room for some inhibition. You don’t want to be known as the obnoxious woman who threw up on herself.
3. Duh. Invest in business cards, not those wee little moo cards.
It may not be an original concept, but it is a practical one. No one will remember your business, blog, or name without a reminder they can pocket. I hope you’re not bringing teeny tiny moo cards. Why? Because everyone brings them. This itty bitty cards all start to look the same. I think simple is the way to go. It’s also a good idea to bring a folder or card organizer to keep track of the cards others give to you. When someone hands you a card, be sure to write down physical attributes of the person or topics about which you spoke. Too often, you’ll return home only to realize you can’t remember which face goes with what card. Especially if you’ve been making good use of #2.
4. Just because it’s free, doesn’t mean you have to take it.
Learned this one at the fatty-farm. Bowl of M&M’s on the counter, yours for the taking. “Oh, but you’ll pay later, missy!” Just because it’s free, doesn’t mean you should take it. This goes for advice you’ll hear and for all the “literature” and “apparel” you’ll receive. It might be free, but a lot of it is just clutter. How many flash drives on a rope does one girl need? Conventions are notorious for “gift” bags, but really, how many coupons do you need for sites forcing you to give up all your personal info, join their mailing list, so you can download a free song? Give. People think Christmas is a time of giving. I say it’s now. Give onto others. Re-gift what you can, then get it out of your hotel room. Most conferences offer specific places where you can recycle unwanted items.Think they’ll take my empty wine bottles?
5. Take pictures and/or video when possible.
Readers want to see visuals of your experience. Your spouse misses you. People want a window into the soul of that session. Especially bring your camera to parties… hang out by the bar and interview people for your blog. Ask them what they hope to get out of the conference, which session so far has been the most surprising, then bring on the inappropriate questions, ready to snap away just when their eyebrows poke up. “What do you mean how heavy is my flow?”
6. Learn to roll with “Middle Child Syndrome”
There are so many sessions from which to choose that you kind of feel the pressure to set it and forget it. You attend the session you circled on your schedule, but you can’t help but wonder, “Are all the good moments happening somewhere else? What am I missing?” If you have time to think this at all, they probably are happening elsewhere because if you were engaged, enjoying the session, you wouldn’t have room for such thoughts. Onward! Move to another session, mid-session. Be a Marsha.
7. I promise you, no one is looking at your shoes.
That still doesn’t mean you slip on crocs (shudder)! At night, heels are the only way to go, but during the day, I always opt for a wedge. You can walk quickly, feel tall and confident, and you won’t trip on your jeans. Yes, jeans. With a cute top, and always bring a little sweater, as some of the rooms are frigid bitches.
8. Party Etiquette
Wear a dress, deodorant, and don’t be an asshat. Do accessorize. Wear the same outfit nearly every day if you must, just mix up the jewels. Don’t ask those around you, “So, what time are you heading over to the [private invite only] party?” Conferences are supposed to make people feel included, not excluded. You’re there to help a community flourish.
9. How to Talk to Anyone, Influence Them, and Dang-it, Make ’em Like You
A lot of people who’ve never been to a conference like SXSW or BlogHer can’t imagine why anyone would be nervous about going. I’m going to try to clear it up. You’re at the bar at some party or another, and you know what you’re thinking? “I better tip the bartender well, or someone is going to blog that I’m cheap.” Never mind that you already tipped the bartender $5 (in advance for the three drinks you plan on having). The point is, we’re social creatures and we want to be liked. We don’t want to be judged, but we are. Every single thing you say is ready to be snacked on by hungry bloggers who can’t wait for a soundbite they can use. So here’s what you do: make it about them. Everyone is there to promote themselves, but the best way about going about it is to listen. To smile. To engage other people by asking them all about what they do.
10. You tell me. What belongs on this list?
The key is to engage people, right? To listen. To take notes. And to be open. And mean it. Like Dr. Fraiser Crane, “I’m listening…”