Kate Goes Conferencing, Part 2: Tips and Tricks

by Kate Kosturski, Head Editor, INALJ New York State

Kate Goes Conferencing, Part 2: Tips and Tricks

inalj_kosturski_nystateIn my last blog post, I talked about stretching out of your conference comfort zone and attending non-librarian conferences.   Now that you have a list of conferences in your toolbox, and you’re getting ready to attend your first (or 50th) conference, how can you make it a success?

I’m a regular contributor to the T is for Training podcast (we record every other Friday at 2 PM EST – if you’re interested in joining the party contact me and I will provide details!), and on our last podcast before ALA Annual (Episode #120 – Congress With a Two Drink Minimum), our show focused on all our favorite tips for making the most of your conference experience.   Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Speak with your feet.  If you’re in a session and it’s not meeting your expectations, it’s perfectly okay to get up and leave for something else.  Conversely, if you’re a speaker and you see people leaving here and there, there is no reason to panic.  (However, if you see the entire audience getting up and leaving, that’s another story and definitely reason to panic!)

  • Talk to people, other than the folk you came with (friends, significant other, co-workers).   Get to know new people and new perspectives.

  • Don’t be afraid to talk to those that may be rockstars or MVPs.   We were new once too, in your shoes.

  • When introducing yourself, be sure to have a business card or something with your contact information in hand.  You will introduce yourself, and be introduced to, many people when you’re at conference.  Unless you have an amazing photographic memory, you’re not going to remember everyone.

  • If you can’t make a session, that’s okay.  Most likely, someone else you know is tweeting or taking notes.

  • Make time to visit the exhibitors (some conferences, such as UK Serials Group and LIBER, schedule coffee breaks/no-conflict times to visit exhibitors) and thank them for any sponsorship they provide.  Vendors are the ones that provide you with snacks in the exhibit hall, free wifi, shuttle buses, badge holders – be sure to show your gratitude!

  • Don’t be too grabby hands with the freebies.  Ask before taking. Thank the vendors for whatever freebies they do provide.  If you do find yourself taking a lot more than you can handle, just mail it to yourself!  Many conferences have a postal center on site, or you can find a post office nearby.

  • The most valuable experiences will not happen in formal presentations – they happen at social events, happy hours, sometimes just in the hall when you’re charging your phone!

  • This one is ALA-specific, but probably also applies to other conferences:  Unless otherwise stated as a closed sessions, all board meetings, Council Sessions, committee meetings, etc.are open!  You are free to sit in, observe, and learn.

Outside of being a good conference attendee, self-care is important.

  • If you need to be at an early session, it’s okay to say no to a late night social event.  Don’t burn the candle at both ends!

  • Take a break.  Enjoy the conference city and its attractions.  I love to bookend my conference with a day or two of playing tourist.  Since I missed the last ALA Annual in Chicago (2009) due to a family obligation, spending time at the Field Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, and a White Sox game at Comiskey park are high on my to-do list!

  • Plan your work time off accordingly.  If you have a late or red-eye flight home, maybe take the following day off from work or telecommute (if that is an option for you).

  • Take off your conference badge when you leave the conference site, and don’t walk around the city with the conference totebag.  It marks you as a tourist, which marks you as a target to thieves and other undesirables.

I won’t touch on what or how to pack for a conference; there are many great sources out there with ideas. (Librarian Wardrobe has a nice roundup of posts with suggestions.)   Here’s some of the items we talked about on T is for Training:

  • Chargers!

  • Just in case you can’t get to a charger, you may want to invest in backup batteries for your mobile device.  iPhone users may want to look at the Mophie Juice Pack – I bought this back in 2011 when Hurricane Irene was due to hit New Jersey, and it’s paid for itself over and over.

  • Snacks – I buy boxes of pre-wrapped cookies or crackers, which are easy enough to slip in your bag or purse, and cheaper than convention center food.

  • Vitamin C/Airborne, to help ward off any potential conference illness from close contact with 20,000 librarians or swift temperature drops

  • A sweater or jacket, because convention center rooms will either be ridiculously warm or ridiculously cold.  They’ll be the latter if you don’t have that jacket with you.

Enjoy your conference!  If you’re going to Annual, look for a redhead with a tiny top hat and very long conference badge (that’s me), and come say hello.


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