Ultimate Guide: Conference Tips and Hacks

As photographers and media professionals (not unlike other professions), there are a variety of conferences available for skill development and networking. These events generally consume a lot of time, and often a lot of our money, so it makes sense to be smart about how we make the most of the time before, during, and after the event. The right conference tips, tricks, and hacks can really boost the value of the event.

Here’s my guide to doing conferences right regardless of whether we’re talking a one-day seminar or a multi-day event. These conference tips and suggestions should help you get more out of the time and money you’ve invested.

Pre Conference Tips

  • If the event is being held at a hotel, or has an “official” hotel, book your room at that venue (even if it’s a few dollars more than somewhere nearby). In addition to eliminating any sort of commute time to/from the event, that hotel will become the de facto place where folks hang out. You’ll find fellow conference-goers at the hotel bar(s) and the hotel’s restaurant(s) will become hosts to various meetups.
  • Do some price shopping with the hotel’s rates. While there’s often a rate or room block for the conference, you might be able to find a better deal via other booking sources.
  • Make sure you have business cards ready to share… don’t be pushy though. It’s better to get a card than to give a card.
  • Figure out the conference #hashtag on Twitter, and start watching it. Participate in conversations about the conference ahead of time.
  • Reach out to other attendees, vendors, or instructors that you wish to meet.
  • Figure out how much camera gear you really need to bring with you. Probably the only time there’s a requirement to bring photo gear is if your event involves some sort of participatory shooting workshop. Otherwise, you can choose to leave some of it at home. I’ve found that in the last couple of years I’m not carrying a DSLR unless absolutely necessary, instead relying on my NEX–6 and iPhone at events.
  • Speaking of gear, set yourself up to not lose those various little cables, adapters, cords, earbuds, and other things that can vanish when in a backpack, purse, or other bag. There are a few good options, I’ve used the Grid-It and been pretty happy.
  • Practice your elevator pitch so you can be ready to answer the inevitable “so what do you do?”
  • Pack power, aka the friend-maker: a small portable power strip. Very few events have enough outlets for attendees, and you’ll be popular (and always able to find an outlet) if you bring your own to share. I like the Monster Outlets To Go model.
  • Make a plan for which sessions, vendor booths, and other activities you want to attend, but also see the first item in the next section…

At the Conference

  • …feel free to ditch your plan if something comes up that seems like a better opportunity.
  • Never eat alone.
  • If you’re an introvert, you might like this article I wrote a couple years ago about being an introvert at a big conference. You too can have conference success, but allow yourself some downtime.
  • Continue to use the conference hashtag, and tweet about what’s going on. Use social media to connect with other attendees. See if there are any informal meetups happening. If not, consider starting one yourself. It can be as simple as posting something like “Who’s here at #WhateverConf and wants to chat more about DSLR Flurbing? Meet at the lobby coffee shop at 4pm!”
  • Stay hydrated! If it’s warm outdoors it’s extra important, but even if you’re just inside hotels and conference rooms make sure that you drink plenty of fluids. Keeping yourself hydrated is a key step to staying healthy overall. And speaking of liquids…
  • …if you’re going to drink, drink smartly. Nothing good will come from getting hammered at the conference bar or parties. Have a drink, maybe two. Drink water as well. You want people to remember you after the event, but not because you were “that guy” at the party.
  • Don’t let your non-conference life get ignored. Some of this is a preparation task, but figure out how you’re going to handle the fact that you’re still going to get email and phone calls while at the event. You might want to figure out how your social media presence will continue while you’re doing the conference thing.

After the Conference

  • Review your notes. I’m sure you took some… now’s the time to review them whether they’re on paper or in a digital format (again, Evernote[1]). Identify the key points and file them away if they’re for reference. If you have action items or tasks, get those into OmniFocus or your task system of choice. If you have a plane/train/other ride home, this is a great time for review.
  • Throw away the brochures or other material for which you have no purpose. Don’t just throw the bag o’ swag[2] into the corner, but figure out what’s important. Do you think you’re going to do something with the company in the next week? Keep it and do it. No? Maybe? Make a digital note somewhere and trash the papers. Don’t add to the clutter pile. Do you really need another branded keychain?
  • File things for follow-up. Plan some time to sit down with a cup of coffee, or tea, or beer, and send follow-up notes to those who you met and hope to build relationships with in the future. This might be a vendor, a workshop instructor, or another photographer. Send them a short note, remind them how you met, and offer to help them if possible.

Hopefully the tips above will help make your next conference experience a great one! If I’ve overlooked something, please leave a comment below.


  1. If you’re using Evernote, you owe it to yourself to make the most of it. The best way to learn all you can is Brett Kelly’s Evernote Essentials.  ↩

  2. swag, noun: stuff we all get, aka those trinkets given away by vendors at trade show booths.  ↩

Ending a Failed Experiment

Productive.PhotographyI’m always interested in experiments in online business.

One such experiment that has failed by any metric is Productive.Photography, launched a few months ago and failing to gather any sort of traction when it comes to traffic, interest, or revenue.

I’ll be migrating a few articles from the site over here, but the rest of the site will be put into a holding pattern and then shut down as things expire.

Now Listening: Current Podcasts

Much like its interesting (to me) to occasionally snapshot my iPhone home screen, it also seems relevant to log what podcasts currently have my attention. They seem to fall into three listening groups:

The Must-Listens in a Timely Fashion

Amplified – a weekly look at Apple-related news and related topics, hosted by Jim Dalrymple, his beard, and Dan Benjamin. The first 3/4 of the show is usually Apple, with a topic change to music for the last segment.

The Fizzle Show – the three guys behind Fizzle explore a variety of topics related to building online businesses.

The Ihnatko Almanac – hard to classify this show other than “things Andy Ihnatko finds interesting.” His interests overlap with mine, so it’s a great show.

Marketing Over Coffee – a short weekly marketing update from Christpher S. Penn and John Wall. Come for the news about big industry players, stay for the Google Analytics tips.

NBN Radio – I’ve been enjoying Dave Delaney’s new(ish) show about networking. Via interviews with guests, he explores the factors to business networking success.

Smart Passive a Income – Pat Flynn talks business with a variety of topics and frequent guests that talk about successful techniques for building a company with the goal of passive income.

Usually-Listen, Eventually

The Digital Story – a weekly roundup of the photography world, hosted by photographer and writer Derrick Story.

The Lede from Copyblogger – a very short weekly show about writing more betterer.

Let’s Make Mistakes – allegedly and occasionally about design, Mike Montiero and Jessie Char chat about modern digital life.

Mac Power Users – all things OS X and iOS, with David Sparks and Katie Floyd share their favorite tips, tricks, and apps that make life great. If you’re into productivity and apps, the series of workflow episodes (where they interview a guest) are excellent.

Mikes on Mics – productivity, writing, and banter with Mr. Vardy and Mr. Schechter.

New Rainmaker - thoughts on modern business and content marketing from the folks at Copyblogger.

On Taking Pictures – a photography podcast cohost by Jeffery Saddoris and Bill Wadman, exploring the art side of the photo world. They make me think as they explore a variety of often-philosophical questions about art and life.

Systematic – a look at processes, workflows, and learning via conversations between host Brett Terpstra and guests from all walks of life (

Running from the Law – legal topics and distance running. No, they don’t really have anything to do with each other, but the host pairing of Gabe Levine and Erika Hall is great.

The Talk Show with John Gruber – opinionated Apple nerdery at its finest.

Occasionally-Listen

Beyond the To Do List – Erik Fisher interviews guests about productivity. I tend to listen based on the topic or guest.

The Grid – the podcast version of the weekly photo talk show hosted by Scott Kelby and friends.

Hanselminutes – Microsoft developer and technologist Scott Hanselman interviews guests about any number of topics. Episode 107 was kind of neat.

Home Work – a show for people who work from home. Hosted by Aaron Mahnke and Dave Caolo, the topics are frequently applicable to anyone who wants to get more done.

Manager Tools – the show is about being a better manager, but I find that Horstman offer up a lot of great thoughts that apply to any sort of interpersonal interaction.

Martin Bailey Photography Podcast – usually-stimulating photography chat by everyone’s favorite Japanese British photo guy.

The New Disruptors – Glenn Fleishman interviews folks who are breaking traditional molds in various creative fields.

Quit! – originally framed as quitting your day job, it’s evolving more into a show about making smart choices for a better life regardless of employment situation. Hosted by Dan Benjamin and Haddie Cook.

This Week in Photo – A mix of timely topics as well as broader, more evergreen photo discussions. Hosted by Frederick Van Johnson and a rotating cast of cohosts.

So now you know my interests… what else should I know about?