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.  ↩

Save 50% + Additional 20% on New Media Expo – One Day Only

New Media Expo (NMX) continues to be a premier event each year for those involved with internet business, whether it’s blogging, publishing, or podcasting.

Returning again to Las Vegas on January 4-6, 2014, today they’re offering a Black Friday Deal for 50% off conference tickets… and as a NMX speaker and affiliate, I have a code to take 20% off of that already-awesome deal.

Just hit this banner:

Join me at New Media Expo in January 2014!

That’ll take you to the NMX Website, where you’ll find the 50% Black Friday deal in effect. Use my personal discount code HOCKLEY20 at checkout to save 20% more, and I look forward to seeing you in Vegas in January!

Seattle Talk on November 14th: From Domain to Fame

WordPress has that famed five-minute install, right? Right. And with most modern web hosts, it’s much quicker than that by using their control panel.

But installing WordPress is but one step in the overall process of launching a new website. Regardless of whether your new online venture is for a hobby or a business, there’s a lot more ot launching a new site than just making WordPress run.

That’s the topic for a talk I’m giving in a couple weeks at the Seattle WordPress Meetup. Join me on November 14th at TechStars.

Seattle Skyline as seen from Gas Works Park

Before the launch, you’ll want to think about how the site is structured and the design. You’ll need to plan for the initial content (both static and dynamic) that should be ready to go while still under wraps. And there should be some preparatory work to ensure that when you launch, someone knows.

On launch day, several things need to happen, and if they’re done in the wrong order it’s not hard to make a potentially embarrassing mistake.

Immediately after the launch, you’ll want to be ready with additional content and promotional steps to bring folks to the site and convert them in some way… whether that’s to a subscriber of some sort, a buyer, someone who’s sharing your content, or whatever other action it is that you hope for your visitors.

We’re going to walk through this in Seattle. Be there… or don’t. :)

Build up a Twitter Account’s Credibility with Strategic Event Tweeting

I’ve had my primary Twitter account, @ahockley, since February 2007 and have arguably tweeted too much since then (65,000 tweets and counting, baby)! I’ve used that account for general conversations as well as photography-related discussions.

Earlier this year I created a separate account as I began to strengthen my online presence in a different area of my life: software quality testing. I launched the Kwality Rules blog and the @KwalityRules Twitter account. I followed some folks in the industry and used the account sporadically.

A few weeks ago I attended STARWest, a major quality conference, and decided I’d use this as the catalyst to boost the profile of @KwalityRules. Here’s what I did.

Before the Event

  • Find the conference hashtag ahead of time. About two weeks prior to the conference, do a Twitter search for the hashtag and see if folks are starting to use it. Send out a tweet with the hashtag indicating that you’re attending and are looking forward to connecting with other attendees.
  • If your Twitter client supports it, set up a saved search view for the conference hashtag and start monitoring it as the event gets closer. If your Twitter client doesn’t support it, perhaps you need a better Twitter client. I like Tweetbot (Mac, iPhone, or iPad).
  • Those people that are using the hashtag and seem to be saying interesting things? Follow them. Perhaps send them an @mention indicating that you’re looking forward to meeting them at the event.
  • If you’ve reviewed the conference schedule and identified particularly noteworthy or interesting-sounding speakers, see if they use Twitter. If they do, follow them. An introduction isn’t a bad idea; let them know you’re looking forward to their talk.

At the Event

Remember: you’re at an in-person event so you should do things in person. Don’t just sit in your room or the corner all the time on your phone, tweeting away. That said, don’t forget to tweet! Here’s how I made my presence known at STARWest.

  • Don’t forget to use the hashtag when tweeting about the event or anything that might be relevant to attendees.
  • Set up a keyboard shortcut for the conference hashtag if it’s more than a couple characters. At STARWest, the hashtag was #starwest. Because I’m a lazy guy, I setup a shortcut on iOS such that when I typed stt it expanded into the hashtag. Didn’t have to go to the second keyboard for the # symbol, etc.
  • That Twitter search that I suggested you set up in advance? Use it. See what others are saying and reply as appropriate. Chime in with your two cents.
  • Retweet others who share interesting things. Retweets are love.
  • Tweet out notable quotes, facts, or things you found interesting from presentations you attended.
  • Tweet if a vendor has an especially interesting giveaway or demo at their booth. What’s interesting? I tweeted about the Sauce Labs robot that was playing Angry birds:

  • Attend informal gatherings. If there aren’t any, start one. Tweet out that you’re going to be at a certain bar or coffee shop at a particular time for a meetup with attendees. Don’t forget the hashtag. Someone will show up. Perhaps many someones. Host a lean coffee in the morning before the activities begin.

The Results

What happened as a result of all my Tweeting? A few things.

I was called out right after the opening keynote (along with @g33klady) as having been a very prolific tweeter, and we were given prizes for our tweeting[1]. As she noted, it’s a major award!

More importantly, I connected with other professionals in the field, including several industry leaders who saw my tweets, engaged in conversation, and followed me. This is the real value, and where building your Twitter presence at an event will lead to long-term relationships that can benefit your personal and professional development.

Twitter + events = a powerful combination.


  1. Let me know if there’s an appropriate use for the phrase “Award-winning tweeter” somewhere.  ↩

Speaking About WordPress Writing at WordCamp Seattle

WordCamp SeattleI’m excited to announce that I’ll be in Seattle on June 8th to speak at WordCamp Seattle, a conference for writers, designers, developers, and others using the WordPress platform.

First, if you’re anywhere in the Pacific Northwest and use WordPress and haven’t yet purchased a ticket for the event, go do that now because it’s on the way to being a sold-out event. Then come back here, and read more about the fact that I’m speaking about

Writing Workflow for WordPress

Having blogged for over 12 years, a majority of that time with WordPress, and having written thousands of articles for a variety of websites, I’ve figured out some tips, tricks, and methods for ensuring a relatively frictionless writing process that produces pleasing results.

This talk will be aimed at intermediate and advanced users who are already familiar with WordPress basics such as posts vs. pages, installing a plugin, adding images, and other fundamentals.

My talk will encompass a look at how I write articles for the online world. From a process standpoint, this flow will include:

  • capturing and prioritizing ideas
  • drafting articles
  • preparing an article for publication (proofing, adding media, etc)
  • post-publishing promotion and followup

I also plan to dive into specific tools for the process, including:

  • writing in Markdown (why, how to learn, and tools)
  • managing scheduled posts (plugins that help)
  • a system for ensuring steps in the publishing process aren’t overlooked
  • a quick look at article promotion tools that don’t involve spamming or sleaze

Attendees should walk away with several ideas for increasing the efficiency of their writing and publishing process using a WordPress platform.

Riverhouse View in Bend, Oregon

I spent the last couple of days in Bend, speaking at a real estate technology conference (I was talking about photography and social media). My accommodations were at the Riverhouse Hotel, which is bisected by the Deschutes River. Each morning as I walked from my hotel room across to the hotel’s restaurant I got to cross a footbridge offering a nice view downstream.

The photo was made on my iPhone using Camera Plus Pro, an app I’m currently reviewing… look for the review over at Splat Photo later this week.

Deschutes River in Bend