Sunday, October 14, 2012

Conference tips no one ever tells you

You all know the usual conference tips: read your paper aloud to yourself, time it, etc. Here are a few conference tips that don't get mentioned enough. 
  • Pack some granola bars or crackers. Seriously. There will be early sessions and slow elevators, when riding down 30 floors to the inevitable Starbucks, waiting in line there, and riding back up to your floor (or finding a seat at said Starbucks) won't get you to an 8:00 session on time.  Unless you can afford the $15 bowl of room-service oatmeal to be delivered to you for breakfast, a granola bar or whatever will stave off enough hunger so that you can get something after the early session. 
  • Drink water--a LOT of water.  When you're talking to people, running around all day, and drinking tea or coffee, it's easier to get dehydrated, especially in the dry air of hotel rooms.  Restaurant food, and especially grab-it-to-go food, can be more salty than the food you usually eat. You might not feel thirsty, but that feeling of sleepiness or distractedness in sessions can be due to being dehydrated. Drinking water will help keep your energy up. 
  • When you get to the conference hotel, walk around to orient yourself. I know: this is obvious, but it's easy to forget if you've had a long trip already. Where are the restaurants? Where's a quick place to grab a sandwich? Is there a drugstore or little grocery store handy to get fruit or snacks? What about a bookstore? 
  • Look up at the hotel's exterior shape and facade: what street is it on? what's distinctive about it, so if you get lost a few blocks away you can look up and see it?
  • If you always end up tinkering with your paper and need to print a copy, does the hotel have a business center, and what are its charges? (Most do, but some in smaller places don't.) If not, is there a copy shop or FedEx close by? 
  • The Q & A at the end of the session is often a great discussion (even though sometimes people want to Hold Forth), and if you rush out after the last paper, you'll miss it. It's a great way to have a conversation, or at least to be in the conversation, with others who are interested in your subject matter. Even if you don't want to ask a question, you'll probably learn something interesting. 
  • If you liked someone's paper, say so, either after the session or when you see the person later. 
  • If you are presenting, try to listen to the others who are in your session or at least to seem to listen. If you pull out your cell phone and check it or keep typing on your laptop at the front of the room, even if you're just looking something up or tweeting, it signals inattention and might be unnerving to the person who's speaking. 
  • Talk to people and go to events, even if you're not a natural extrovert. There are all kinds of conference small talk you can engage in to introduce yourself, from something specific about a paper or an author ("I'm interested in what you had to say about X") to more general introductory topics ("What are you working on now?") to the conference itself to general things about travel, food, and places to eat. Unless your name is Bill Clinton, you might feel a little strange about going into a reception and talking to people you don't know, but that's part of what conferences are for.  
  • Bring your professional cards, if you have them. I know: it's old school, we're living in a digital age, and all that, but I still see a surprising number of people exchanging cards at conferences. It's still easier to exchange cards than to write down someone's email address when you're rushing to another session or straining to hear them over the din of a reception. 
Any other tips? 

No comments: