Conference Advice from “Grandma Beth”

My mind is still reeling (in a good way) after attending Computers in Libraries 2011.   So I wanted to get down some tips & tricks for conference attending since I’ve been dubbed “Grandma Beth” by a certain person who will remain nameless.  It is a fun, inside joke but I’m embracing it and hopefully I can pass along some wisdom.  To be honest I wish someone had told me some of this all those years ago when I attended my first CIL.  Some of these are especially important for those not staying in a hotel nearby but are commuting each day like I was.

  • Pack light. I didn’t heed my own advice this year.  I swear my backpack was at least 50 lbs.  Bring a netbook, tablet, or iPad instead of a laptop.
  • Bring a small digital point and shoot camera instead of a DSLR body, several lenses and flash.  That alone would have made what I was lugging around a lot less.
  • Charge your smartphone fully before you leave home.
  • Turn your smartphone off if you don’t get service in a certain room or during a certain session.  I found out that my phone was working overtime trying to reach the network and it drained the battery even faster than normal.  Once I learned this and turned my phone off in session where I didn’t have a good signal my phone lasted all day.
  • Bring your USB cord to charge the phone.  There is usually someone who will let you hook up to their laptop to charge your phone.
  • Introduce yourself.  I found that I was horrible and introducing people because I lost track of who knew who from Twitter, Facebook, etc.  To me it just felt like everyone already knew everyone but that wasn’t truly the case.
  • Get on Twitter! Even if you don’t use Twitter the rest of the year make sure you do at conferences.  Follow the main conference account because they will often tweet updates about wifi, room changes, speaker changes and more.
  • Setup a conference account if you are already on Twitter.  Don’t inundate your main stream (especially if people besides library folks follow you) instead tweet from there that they should follow your conference account to learn more about the conference.
  • Setup a search for the conference’s hashtag(s) in Twitter.  Take some time to read what others are tweeting.  You can’t attend every session and this is a great way to get a feel for what you are missing.
  • Get in as much as possible if this is your first time attending a conference but don’t over do it (see two bullet points above).
  • Read the program ahead of time to get an idea of what you think you might like to attend.  But be flexible and allow yourself to change your mind later.
  • Look at who is speaking.  The titles can be catchy and description can be deceiving.  I’ve found that if you know anything about the speaker it can help.
  • Talk to people if you don’t know anything about the speakers.  They can give you a feel for who is good, bad or indifferent.
  • Do Not hesitate to leave if you feel unsure about a session.  Also sit towards the back so it is easier to leave.  You are there to learn, to be inspired, to be provoked not to be bored or hear something that doesn’t pertain to you.
  • Do Not hesitate to leave even if you are sure about a session and it doesn’t turn out to be what you expected.  Slip into the back of another session, visit the exhibits or a cybertour.  Or take the time to let all the other great information you’ve heard process.
  • Lobby-con, bar-con, dinner-con or whatever you want to call it is one of the most important parts of any conference because of the networking that happens outside of the actual sessions.   These groups of like-minded people are invaluable.  You will learn a lot from these networking sessions so don’t hesitate to participate in them.  I can’t stress this one enough.

I’d love to hear from other “grandmas and grandpas” out there to see what other tips or tricks they would recommend.


7 Responses to Conference Advice from “Grandma Beth”

  1. Julie says:

    Excellent tips! I’d also add:
    – dress comfortably
    – bring business cards
    – write your twitter name on your badge

    also, that doesn’t count as “nameless” 😉

  2. mlibrarianus says:

    Just had another thought (wish I had thought of it before today):

    – If at all possible, take the day (or two) off after the conference (especially if it a multi-day conference like CIL). This gives you time to let all the good information you heard process. Then you can get your notes together while things are still fresh in your mind instead of having to dive back into your normal workflow.

  3. theycallmetater says:

    I’m terrible at introducing myself and at lobbycon type stuff. I go to MLA every year and never get everything out of it I could because I am not a social enough person. I tend to eat and drink alone at the conference instead of networking like I should.

    • Betsy says:

      But then, some people need alone time during each conference day in order to process (the same theory as mlibrarianus’ suggestion to take the day/s after the conference off). Don’t guilt yourself for needing breaks between group sessions – you’ll get more out of the conference if you’re not overwhelmed trying to get everything out of it!

      • mlibrarianus says:

        Good point Betsy. Also if you present – take time after your presentation to breathe, enjoy your success, and process before you head to another session. That certainly helped me the year I presented.

  4. mlibrarianus says:

    If you Tweet make sure you add your Twitter username to your badge. People may not know your face but they certainly do remember Twitter usernames. You’ll hear a lot of “Oh, I follow you on Twitter!” what a great way to start a conversation.

    I’m going to recommend this to CIL that it be part of the registration process so it’s easier to read than people’s handwriting.

  5. Heather says:

    Julie shouldn’t take the blame by herself 🙂 I’ll take partial blame (credit?) for your new title 🙂 All good suggestions. Tips to add:

    1. drink lots of water, not coffee or adult beverages–save for later! :). It makes a difference and keeps you going through the day sessions (always helpful when the conference/site has lots available, which CiL does a good job providing).

    2. I’ll second Betsy’s suggestion to not go to everything. Otherwise, you’ll be overwhelmed, and not get quite so much out of the other sessions.

    3. Some of the best conferences interactions take place outside sessions; I (and many others) get rejuvenated from visiting with friends I only see f2f at conferences each year. Take full advantage of those opportunities, as a time to talk and as a time to listen.

    4. I had another one but can’t remember — will post back here if I do remember it.

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