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). 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 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.