A Practical Guide To Attending A Conference

I’ve been to a lot of conferences and if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that attending sessions and paying attention is important. Pretty. Basic. Stuff.

You (or your boss) paid for it after all.

But there’s more to attending a conference than just being present.

You also have to keep work moving along back at the office; you have to be comfortable; you have to keep all your devices charged.

So here’s some practical advice. I apologize for the length – there’s a whole section on Las Vegas at the end because I live there and want you to have a good time. Responsibly.

During a conference –

Do your timesheets from the convenience of home via your Webvantage app on your mobile device. Warm and cozy.

Do your timesheets from the convenience of home via your Webvantage app on your mobile device. Warm and cozy.

Conference rooms are cold – Take a sweater, sweatshirt, favorite Snuggie® – or something to keep warm. By design, meeting rooms at conferences are always cold. Temperatures are set to cooler temperatures to keep you awake. In Las Vegas, where I live, everything is over-air conditioned. I always have to wear a sweater inside during the summer. So if attending a conference in Vegas, it’s doubly important to bring a layer or two to be comfortable.

Speaking of Comfort – Comfortable shoes are a must. There’s usually a hike between your room and a conference center. Unless your conference is MAGIC, leave the stilettos at home.

Take notes – You’re there for a reason and there’s usually a few nuggets of wisdom to share back home.

Bring business cards – You’ll find a lot of like-minded folks who have pondered the same issues; or solved the same problems with a different approach; and you could make a life-long friend. You could also find your next job at a conference – or your next colleague.

Scope-out outlets* – Preferably near a chair. Hopefully you’ll be able to snag it during a break and you can charge your fading battery. A lot of conferences are in rooms with movable walls so charging within the room can be futile.

Find the restroom right away – That’s right. During a busy conference you may need to hike it (they’re rarely convenient), and at break time it’s a pain to wait in line once you get there. Know where they are (and sometimes it’s better to travel a little further to avoid the wait, then use your valuable time grabbing a water and a muffin – or check-in on work back at the ranch).

Eat – Food at conferences is usually okay, and cuts down on your expense budget. And it will help keep your mind from wandering (feed your head). Don’t want it now? Grab an apple or cookie for later.

After conference hours –

Socialize responsibly – As one who has ignored this advice a time or two in the past, I speak from experience. It is a ton of fun being with colleagues away from work. Everything in moderation is the mantra.

Check-out the town – Find the best restaurants, shops and music – and put a little money out there and boost the economy. The hotel concierge, others who’ve been there before (always my first choice), or your favorite app. Unless you’re planning to order-in room service while you work, leave the hotel. The food will often be better.

Get to bed at a reasonable hour – enough said.

After the conference –

Give feedback – If you get a form, fill it out. At least do the checkbox portion. The organizers do read them and are always working to make each conference better than the last.

Keep in touch – You just met a whole bunch of people who like to help and need help. You’ve just been (re)introduced to a unique community so keep sharing updates. Connect on LinkedIn or other social sites. Know what’s going on in your community, provide guidance to the newbies, and. . .ask for help. There’s always someone out there with bona fide credentials, and then there are hacks willing to flame. Weed through the crap. There’s good stuff out there.

If in Las Vegas –

The economy is based on gambling – Surprise! that’s what fuels the city. So if new to gambling, set your limit, $20 max and you should have a good time on a nickel machine. If you’ve been here a time or two, you know the ropes. Be responsible and don’t bet more than you can afford to lose. The odds are always in the house favor. So with that, if you’re up, cash out and spend the extra on a little something for yourself. Head over to Bonanza, the World’s Largest Gift Shop. And with that. . .

Shopping is everywhere – you can shop in your casino, on the Strip, in the ‘burbs. Lots of high-end stuff. It’s actually kind of fun to stride into Harry Winston and see something that only the 1% can afford. However, when I shop (I actually hate to shop), I head to the Premium Outlets (I prefer North). There’s a bus from the strip, and thousands of cabbies willing to take you there.

Eat – Las Vegas has some of the finest chefs in the world. Splurge – just one night.

Be prepared for the cost of a drink – Casinos are really expensive (in my book, and I live here). A $6 Corona or $17 scotch is stupid (any liquor out of a speed gun is 3/4-ounce). But play a slot machine (you can play penny machines), and a lovely cocktail waitress (I’m not sexist, they’re always female, and always super nice which equals lovely), will come by, ask you what you want, and she’ll bring it right to you. It’s “free” because you’re gambling. BUT – do give a tip. $1 - $2 is nice, more is nicer.

Drink water – The humidity in Vegas is really low. Air conditioning lowers it even more. It is dry. And if it’s hot outside or you’re drinking alcohol, even more the reason – hydrate with water.

Be prepared to walk – a lot. This time of year it’s pleasant outside and a stroll from Mandalay Bay to the Bellagio looks easy. It’s a 1.4 mile obstacle course. Beware: There are only a few remaining intersections that do not have pedestrian over-passes. And a little piece of advice: DO NOT ATTEMPT TO RUN ACROSS LAS VEGAS BOULEVARD. Pedestrians do not have the right-of-way outside of crosswalks in this town. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve almost killed someone with a drink-on-a-sling running across the street from Paris to the Bellagio to watch the fountain. You’ll only have to wait 15 minutes or so for another chance to see the grandeur.

"Red Rock Canyon-800px". Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution

"Red Rock Canyon-800px". Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution

Be a tourist – Come to Las Vegas a day or two early or stay an extra couple days. Where else can you see the Eiffel Tower, Pyramids, Venice, a volcano, and a Pirate Ship in one place? Once you’ve filled your soul with that experience, Red Rock Canyon is just a few miles to the West with wonderful (and many easy) hiking trails; Death Valley (Badwater is awesome at 282 feet below sea level) is a couple hours further to the West; Hoover Dam is just an hour to the East; and the Grand Canyon is a 4-1/2 hour drive to the East. If you’re that close, you should check out the real wonders of this area.

*If you’re attending the Advantage Users Group next week, I’ll be there, near an outlet during breaks (as a courtesy), with plenty of plugs to power your devices. That is until security shoos me away. I’ll even offer up a bit of advice on the terrific new features of Webvantage. I might even offer some well-honed opinions.