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So you're attending a conference (or...what I wish I had known)

As January wraps up, education conferences for 2023 are in full swing. The year has kicked off with local "affiliate" conferences (shout out to IACUE!), as well as larger state and national conferences as well (I am so sorry to miss FETC: Future of Education Technology and TCEA this year!!). As conferences begin in earnest for 2023, I began reflecting on and compiling a list of everything I wish I had known when I started attending and presenting at conferences many moons ago. I hope this post helps the many educators out there who are gearing up for learning and collaboration this year!

Know Before you Go:

  • Take a large suitcase: it will hold all of the souvenirs and exhibit hall swag that you are bringing back to share with students and colleagues.

  • Bring your own pillow. In my opinion, hotel pillows are either too soft or too hard. Sleep while traveling is crucial. Trust me-bring your own pillow.

  • K-cups (for my coffee drinkers out there). I bring one or each day that I will be away.v I know that hotels usually provide these, but I can't even count how many times I have had two decaf cups (!!!) in my room. I know this might seem like a little thing, but sometimes it is the little things, like a cup of coffee when you are jet-lagged, that count!

  • Bring a reusable water bottle. You can fill it up in the hotel gym or lobby. It will save you time and money. Not to mention battle dehydration from traveling and recycled air in convention centers.

Clothes: This is a personal one, so always do what feels right for you! This is my go-to:

  • Convention centers are COLD!! Even in the peak of summer, they are downright freezing! Due to this, I dress in layers. My standard dress for conferences: jeans, a nice shirt/top, blazer/cardigan. For me, conferences are about learning from my peers, collaboration, and connections. You never know who you will see, meet, or run into, so I opt for a work-casual vibe.

  • Comfortable shoes are a must! You will walk. A lot. I have been known to average 20,000 steps a day at a conference. Shoes can be cute, but always must be comfortable and broken in. Save your uncomfortable dress shoes for another time!

  • Bring some dressier "going out" clothes if you plan on attending any "after-hours" parties or networking events. Depending on the time, location, and nature of the event, you will want to bring something that matches the tone. I have attended events that are casual all the way to very dressy-know before you go or bring one outfit that can be dressed up.

What I carry at a conference:

This can be a tricky category. It won't seem heavy at first, but be aware of what you take with you. You most likely will be gone to the convention center all day, and not return to your hotel room until that evening (unless your hotel is attached to the convention center). Here is my list:

  • Backpack (I know, it's not glamorous, but it does the job)

  • Small cross-body purse (to carry and have easy access to my phone, wallet, cash, epi-pen, lip gloss)

  • Mini-first aid kit with bandaids (see shoe comment above)

  • Advil or pain-reliever (any medication that you may need during the day)

  • Protein bar and water bottle (and of course, Diet Coke)** Food can be tricky at convention centers with long lines and high prices**

  • Scarf (this helps with unexpectedly frigid temps in rooms and convention centers)

  • Cash and cards (Convention centers are notorious for accepting ONLY one or the other)

  • Mask (Hey-whatever works for you. I keep one on standby.)

  • Breath mints

  • Reading glasses/sunglasses

  • Charging cords and connection cables: for computer and phone

  • Business cards (although I recently switched to digital cards and now use Hi Hello)

  • Stickers or book-related items to give away

When you are at the conference:

  • Check out a map of the facility/convention center. Look for routes for safety, access (elevators/escalators), food & coffee/beverages, and presentation rooms.

  • Check for conference-specific WIFI to avoid draining your battery. Try to avoid public WIFI for data safety purposes.

  • Expect to spend WAY MORE TIME in the exhibit hall than you think you will. There is always a lot to see and you will most likely run into friends and colleagues there.

  • Map out your top sessions to attend ahead of time. Have alternate sessions ready in case there is a long line to get into a session or the session is full. (This happens more than you may think-especially with Keynote and Featured Speakers)

  • I use Google-Keep to house all of my notes from attending sessions. You can attach pictures, color code, add audio notes, share with colleagues, set filters, etc. It is easy to use with my iPad mini and Apple Pencil, as well.

  • Take breaks as needed. There are usually lounge spaces set up in the convention center, conveniently located near charging stations, for you to catch your breath and clear your mind.

  • Speaking of photos: you may want to create a folder or photo album to share with friends and colleagues. If you take a lot of pictures (like I do!) it is great way to save them.

  • As a courtesy-ask before you tweet or post. Not everyone is cool with this for lots of reasons. Be sure to ask before you tweet/post a picture of someone. It's also great to tag them if they give permission.

  • Be sure to check out local food and entertainment (if time permits). This is a HUGE bonus: getting to know the local cuisine and culture.

Presenting a Session?

This is really exciting! There are so many wonderful educators out there that are willing to share their knowledge and expertise with us. If that is you, congratulations! Here are some of the things that I have learned from presenting at local, state, and national conferences:

  • Advertise your session. The conference organizers will usually provide you with a template. This helps advertise both the conference and the knowledge that you have to share!

  • Always bring your own (fully charged) device, even if the organizers tell you they will have one for you. Things happen, devices mysteriously won't work, etc. It is better to have your own, ready to go!

  • Download your presentation as a PDF or on a flash drive, just in case! Again, you never know and this will save time and stress.

  • Find your presentation room ahead of time and be prepared to be there early. You may not be able to move chairs, tables, etc. for the set-up (at state and national conferences, you won't be able to move anything...this can be a contractual issue with the convention center and the event organizers).

  • Elevators and escalators will stop working at very inopportune times. Have an alternative route ready.

  • Decide ahead of time what materials you will be sharing with participants. You do NOT need to give your slides. However, it is a better practice to have something that participants can "walk away" with. This could be a link to your website, a padlet of resources, a Genially infographic, a one-pager PDF, etc.

  • Provide a list of other sessions you are presenting OR are excited to see (maybe friends or colleagues).

After the Conference:

  • You will be tired! No matter how much fun you had, and how much you learned.

  • Make sure you have time to decompress and reflect on the experience.

  • Unpack right away. I struggle with this...but the suitcase will be there...mocking you...wait-is this just me??

  • Send thank-you and follow-up emails right away. Include where you met (if this is a new acquaintance) and what you are reaching out for.

  • Hydrate and prepare for the next one!

Do you have other tips and tricks for attending conferences? Send them to me for an additional "go-to" list that I am making for Conference Travel 101: or respond to this blog post and tweet. I will see you all this year! My next conference for 2023 is below! Hope to see you all there!


*Note: I am not affiliated with or paid by any of the suggested items listed in this post. I genuinely use them frequently and love them.

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