Prep Work: Getting Ready for a Conference

Attending a large conference requires some preparation—whether packing, list-making, or picking out sessions to attend and people to meet. What’s the best way to make sure you go in prepared?

It’s hard for me to believe that in a week I’ll be headed to Detroit for ASAE’s 2015 Annual Meeting & Exposition. You would think that, with this being my 10th meeting, I’d have my preparation down to a science, but I’ll be the first to admit that it can still be a bit overwhelming.

An event is only as good as your experience.  Much of your experience is in your own hands.

As I write this post, there are three separate lists on my desk. (What can I say? I like lists!) One is my to-do list for Associations Now-related work I need to wrap-up before I leave, the second is my to-do list for the conference newspaper, Daily Now, and the third is beginnings of a packing list.

On the latter is the stuff I really can’t forget: staff name badge, our “quick tips” book put together by our meetings team, business cards, as well as items that allow me to maintain my sanity while onsite like running shoes and snacks.

But a multiday conference can be overwhelming for attendees as well, whether veterans or first-timers. There are often dozens, if not hundreds, of sessions to choose from, multiple breakfast and evening event options, and people you’d like to meet and catch up with. And then there’s the need for some necessary sleep, even if the length is shorter than usual.

Last year in Daily Now we asked a few ASAE Annual Meeting veterans for their advice on how to best navigate the conference. Aaron Wolowiec, CAE, founder and president of Event Garde, said that he considers both his long- and short-term goals before deciding on what sessions to attend and what exhibitors, speakers, and fellow attendees to meet. And then he rethinks those goals at the end of each day to see if any adjustments need to be made.

Lowell Aplebaum, CAE, chief operating officer at the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, also recommended selecting a few must-attend sessions but then allowing yourself some flexibility. “Know the things you need to get to and the things you want to get to and build in buffer time,” he said.

But there are plenty of other meeting experts and attendees out there who offer even more advice. Here’s a few thoughtful comments from them:

Take responsibility. Over on her blog, marketer Kristy Bolsinger offers up six tips to prepare. My personal favorite: “An event is only as good as your experience.  Much of your experience is in your own hands,” she wrote. “Take responsibility for it. If you’re not learning anything … try getting your hiney out of your chair and heading to a new room.”

Update your profiles. In an article on, contributor Madeline Roberts recommends updating your online profiles, since you’re likely to get some requests during and after the meeting. “[E]nsure that your social profiles have the most updated information from skills to publications, especially if you’re looking for a new job opportunity,” she said. “Upload a recent picture to all of your accounts, or at least the ones you share with other conference attendees, so they know they’re clicking on the right profile.”

Pack wisely. Over at the MemberClicks blog, Callie Walker offers some advice for first-time ASAE attendees that covers the gamut—from social media to networking. I like what she wrote about packing: “We speak from experience when we say to bring the following items: comfortable walking shoes, Tylenol, water, and a phone charger.” She also recommended a map of Detroit, so you can explore when you have downtime.

Try something new. In a blog post titled “How to Be a Great Conference Attendee,” Jennifer Spencer says the worst thing you can be is dismissive. “Conferences are a great place to push a little past your comfort zone—and no, I don’t mean at the bar,” she wrote. “Jump into a session you think is too advanced for you or is on a topic you think you don’t know anything about and you just might surprise yourself.”

Oh, one other thing I’ll try to do before heading to Detroit is get a little more sleep this weekend. Nothing like going into a meeting wide-eyed and rested.

Now it’s your turn: How do you get ready to attend a large conference? Any tips or tricks you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments.

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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