A Conference Survival Guide

The next big conference is almost upon us, and attendees are seeking advice on social media regarding how to make the most of their limited time at one of the biggest professional development opportunities of the year. Whether you are a seasoned conference goer, or this is your first time, there is something for everyone in this blog post.

Plan ahead: Preparation for conferences starts as soon as the last attendee leaves. With a year to reflect, plan and organize a conference on this scale you can guarantee that the schedule will be packed with amazing presenters and exhibitors. Consider it a certainty that sessions you want to attend will clash. In fact, at SHAPESeattle, there are THREE sessions that I want to attend….at the same time I will be presenting a session of my own! Check out the conference schedule (is there a conference app?) and prioritize the sessions, workshops, and events that interest you the most. The Teacher of the Year sessions are a unique opportunity to see some of the best teachers in our field share their awesomeness. The keynotes are always a must and probably the biggest shared experience of attendees. Make a schedule for each day and be sure to include time for breaks and self-care.

Network: Conferences offer a great opportunity to meet new people and connect with others. At my first national convention I remember seeing people who I recognized from social media and was too intimidated to introduce myself to them. DON’T BE LIKE ME. Introduce yourself and meet as many people as you can. Trade contact details, whether that be social media handles, email addresses or business cards. This can help you build valuable relationships and expand your professional learning network. #SHAPESeattle has a series of Coffee Talks, which are a great way to meet like minded educators in a less formal setting.

Many people will say that the best networking comes from the spontaneous meetings – standing in line at the coffee shop, waiting for an elevator, sharing an Uber…or a late night Paddlezlam session (if you were there, you know what I’m talking about).

Be prepared: Bring a notebook or use a note-taking app to record important information from the sessions you attend. I’m old-school and always bring my Moleskine notebook. This can help you remember key points and takeaways, and can serve as a valuable reference after the conference. I’ve also seen attendees create shared google docs and crowd-source their notes. This divide-and-conquer method is awesome but needs someone to volunteer to set it up. Could that person be you?

After years of traveling the country presenting at conferences, dragging dongles and devices around with me, I’ve managed to streamline my tech pack. I love my iPad but always travel with my Amazon Fire HD 8 tablet (currently 40% off) because I can download movies, load up my kindle with the latest Book of the Month, and this device is more rugged than my Apple devices. My dongles and charging cables all travel with me in this portable electronics travel case including this awesome 3 in 1 Magnetic Foldable Wireless Charger (25% + 10% coupon) that charges my iWatch, iPhone and airpods. Heaven forbid my devices should run out of power, I travel with the older version of this Anker portable charger (20% off).

Have fun: When I’m at a conference, I’M AT A CONFERENCE, and can be guilty of not getting away from the event. However, conferences are not just about learning and networking – they can should be a lot of fun. Attend social events, explore the host city, and enjoy the experience. If you arrive early for SHAPESeattle you can catch the NCAA Women’s Basketball Regionals and a quick google search for Jazz venues in Seattle tells me that an artist I like will be town during my trip.

You’ve waited this long to finally attend such an awesome event so remember, taking care of yourself is an essential part of attending a conference. By prioritizing self-care, you’ll be better equipped to learn, grow, and enjoy the experience.

Get enough sleep: Try to get a good night’s sleep each night and take breaks during the day to rest and recharge. If possible, try to maintain your regular sleep schedule to avoid feeling jet-lagged or exhausted. I’ll probably pack this sleep mask, and will lean on the soundscapes on the Calm app to help me falls asleep.

Stay hydrated: I’m guilty of NOT following this advice. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated and prevent fatigue. Bring a refillable water bottle with you to the conference and refill it frequently. I also plan on packing hydration and vitamin tablets to help me with the candle-burning-at-both-ends.

Eat well: Another piece of advice that I should heed! Do some research in advance to find local food venues a few blocks away from the conference venue. Make an effort to eat the foods that give you sustained energy throughout the day, although I have to admit that I do like to treat myself to a local burger and a brew whenever visiting a new town.

Take breaks: I’ll work hard and play hard while I’m attending a conference, but I also rest hard too. Naps are my superpower and I’m happy that I’ll be staying at the hotel that is also the conference HQ. I’m close enough to the action, and a short walk back to my room to rest and recharge. Give yourself permission to take breaks and step away from the conference activities when you need to.

If you are reading this blog post in advance of visiting SHAPESeattle please make sure that you vote in the Board of Directors election, details of which should be in your in-box. Each of the candidates are passionate about driving our profession forwards and are ready to serve!

What tips have I missed? Feel free to drop comments below or share them on social media using the hashtag #SHAPESeattle.

You will come back from the conference full of amazing ideas and this blog post will help you maximize your efforts after the conference is over.

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