Today is a busy day: I’m working my third conference for my employer in Kansas City. These annual conferences are opportunities for us to meet with our customers, share cutting-edge industry information and demonstrate how we can help community banks solve their biggest challenges.
Anyone who has ever been to a conference before knows the basics of surviving them. But what about those who present? At these conferences, I am “On” for a full three days straight. It starts with setup the afternoon before. We may be in casual attire as we are hauling technology and manuals around to the appropriate conference rooms, but it isn’t unusual for conference attendees to start arriving early for the opening dinner/drink reception that night. Follow that up with a full day of back-to-back sessions on Monday and a half day of back-to-back sessions on Tuesday, and by the end of Tuesday I’m ready to hide out in a quiet hole for the next day and a half to recuperate.
So for anyone who finds themselves in this situation, here are some Pro Tips for surviving a conference when you are a presenter.
Layers: This depends on the conference rules. Sometimes you have the freedom to dress yourself, within appropriate boundaries for the conference. But for our conference, we have proscripted dress code of dark pants with the designated company logo button-down shirt on each day. Just like any conference, the rooms can range from boiling hot to freezing cold. Typically as a presenter you may run towards the warmer side, but layers are still advisable. Even with a designated dress code, you can still wear layers. A top underneath, a cardigan, just make sure you are prepared for any conditions.
Snacks and Water: We generally have about 15-20 minutes between each session, and normally you could run to the main hall and get coffee and snacks. But when you are the session presenter, you don’t have this kind of time. Attendees want to ask you questions, and sometimes you will even have pre-arranged meetings between the sessions to cover specific issues. So come prepared with snacks and water to hold you over, because there is never time to run up to the main conference hall.
Comfortable Shoes: I made this mistake at my second conference. I wore some wedge shoes that I was sure were going to be comfortable because they weren’t high heels. Well…needless to say that about an hour into the three hour opening reception I was glued to the tall tables because my shoes were not comfortable, I had taken them off, and the long tablecloths hid my stocking feet. It was not my proudest moment, and not one I will be repeating this year. Make sure your shoes are comfortable, especially when you will be on your feet for hours at a stretch.
Cough Drops/Lozenges: Anyone who has ever met me knows that I have a “Teachers Voice”, meaning that I don’t have to struggle to be heard at the back of a room. But after starting with conference breakfast at 7:00 AM and not being able to turn “Off” until after 10:00 PM, by the end of the day you will need cough drops or throat lozenges to preserve your voice for the next day. Also key: Hydration.
Drinks in Moderation (If At All): At any conference, the alcohol will flow. Especially when others around you are having a good time and enjoying the libations, you need to pace yourself if you are going to drink. Besides the fact that it’s hugely unprofessional to get drunk at professional functions, you need to keep yourself rested and hydrated. Too much alcohol not only interferes with your sleep, it is also very dehydrating, which makes you doubly tired and can result in you losing your voice before the end of the conference.
Time to Turn Off: Even the most extroverted person finds conferences exhausting. When you are constantly around colleagues, customers and business contacts for 12-14 hours at a stretch, you don’t get the time do what I call Turn Off…to wind down in a quiet place and just be alone to process your thoughts. It is important to find whatever time you can to process your thoughts and take a small respite. Whether its a few minutes in the bathroom, a break back in your hotel room before receptions, or giving optional events a pass so that you can get some alone time, these Turn Off times are crucial.
Stuff to Help you Sleep: Sleeping is something you can’t skimp on even during your normal work routines, but when you are presenting marathon sessions at a conference for 14+ hours per day, sleep is essential. A lot of people have trouble sleeping when they are traveling, and some hotels don’t make sleeping easy. In my time for the company I’ve done a lot of traveling, and I’ve had some hotels that were amazingly quiet. I’ve also stayed in some hotels where I could hear the person in the next room breathing. And when conference activities go on for hours into the night…well lets just say that people stumbling back to their hotel rooms at later than 2 AM are rarely quiet about it. So whatever you need to bring to help you sleep is essential. In my travel kit I always bring:
- Headphones: In the hotels with paper thin walls and lots of noise, sometimes the headphones and several calming sleeping playlists on Spotify are a lifesaver in getting me to sleep.
- Calming Teas: I love tea almost as much as I love coffee. I always bring two with me when I travel, Chamomile and Sleepy Time Extra. I enjoy the Chamomile at night to help me relax after being so active for so long, and normally that is enough to send me to the Land of Nod. When it’s not, a nice cup of the Sleepy Time Extra does the trick thanks to Valerian root in the tea, and unlike sleeping aid pills it doesn’t give you the several hour long sleep aid hangover the next morning.
- Reading Material: I am studying for the PMP, but I’m not talking about curling up with the PMBOK before bed. I’m talking about something that is nice and light, not too taxing on my already overactive brain synapses. Whatever genre is your favorite, bring it along to help usher you to sleep.
I hope these tips help you enjoy your next conference!