5 Conference Tips and Tricks from an Overplanner

If you're like me, you like to overplan for things. If not, here's some tips from an overplanner on how to prepare for big summer conferences.

Last summer, I wrote about “How to Make a Game Plan for Your Next Conference.” If you haven’t read that one yet, I highly recommend checking it out, as it’s some of my best overall advice for attending large conferences without losing your sanity. This post goes a bit beyond that one.

I’ve come to realize that I’m an overplanner (my friends are probably rolling their eyes right now). I get this trait from my dad. I love to research places, read articles, make maps, create itineraries. And while I realize that this level of planning isn’t for everyone, there are aspects to it that can help YOU plan better for large (or small) conferences that you might be attending this summer.

Chicago Map

Custom map of Chicago made in Google Maps

Create a Custom Google Map

This is one of my favorite tricks for any travel I do. Googling “how to create a custom Google map” will bring you to tons of tutorials. The short of it is that when signed in to Google, you go to Maps, Your Places, then Maps again, and create a map. Once you have your map, you search for different locations and add those pins to your map. You can color code them, change the symbol, add notes, and more.

Here’s a few places I recommend adding:

  • The hotel/Airbnb/VRBO where you’re staying
  • The convention center
  • Closest public transportation hub
  • Restaurants near the convention center you could eat at
  • Nearest grocery store to stock up on supplies
  • Locations of social events you plan to go to
  • Attractions you want to visit while you’re there

Know the convention center layout

Most conference websites include a map of the convention center. Study it. Get familiar with what is where. If you’re presenting or you know you have some can’t-miss sessions, find where they are on the map. Bonus: look at the vendor hall map and plan out which booths you’ll go to. Knowing the maps will make it a lot easier to get oriented once you get there and can help you avoid missing sessions because you couldn’t find them.

Create a note or doc with important information

Use a cloud app like Google Docs or Evernote to create a file with important information you’ll need throughout the conference. I usually print this out before I leave (see the next section) just in case I don’t have Wifi or data at some point. This doc contains all the vital information and notes you might need throughout your conference experience.

Things to include:

  • The address of your hotel/AirBnb/VRBO
  • A list of your must-attend sessions, their times, and room numbers
  • A record of expenses you incur during the trip (you might be able to write off some of them)
  • A map file for public transportation, if applicable (I have a CTA L map in my Chicago file for ISTE)
  • Notes to yourself (i.e., Don’t forget your laptop on this day! Make sure you eat lunch between these sessions.)

Print out back-ups

Yes, we are all very tech-saavy. But technology can still fail. I can’t tell you how many big conferences I’ve been to where the Wifi and data networks were overwhelmed. And then there’s the risk of your phone dying (or worse, getting stolen). So I recommend printing out back-ups of important documents and keeping them in a folder in your backpack (see my previous post about why you should be wearing a backpack).

Here’s some things you should print:

  • Plane tickets
  • Hotel reservation
  • Your important information doc

Have a food plan

Having been gluten-free for over six years now, I’m hyper-aware of food options. But whether or not you have dietary restrictions, I recommend having a food plan. Avoid convention center food like the plague. It’s usually un-healthy and way overpriced.

Pack snacks and a lunch instead if you can. I’m purchasing some collapsible food storage containers for ISTE this summer so I can pack lunches from Whole Foods (if where you’re staying has a fridge, you should go to a grocery store on your first day). Know nearby options, too. Is there a healthy, reasonably priced restaurant that’s a five-minute walk from the convention center? Add it to your Google Map! Could you walk/take a shuttle back to your room halfway through the day and eat there? Plan it! It’s so tempting to eat a quick burger while standing up in the convention center food court, but you’ll wear yourself out quickly doing things like that. Slow down a bit for lunch. Your body and brain will thank you.

P.S. If you’re wondering what stuff I recommend to pack for conferences, check out this post.

Are you an overplanner when it comes to conferences?  What are some strategies you use?

Author: Diana Rendina

Diana Rendina, MLIS, is the media specialist at Tampa Preparatory, an independent 6-12 school. She was previously the media specialist at Stewart Middle Magnet School for seven years, where she founded their library makerspace. She is the creator of the blog RenovatedLearning.com & is also a monthly contributor to AASL Knowledge Quest. Diana is the winner of the 2016 ISTE Outstanding Young Educator Award, the 2015 ISTE Librarians Network Award, the 2015 AASL Frances Henne Award & the 2015 SLJ Build Something Bold Award. She is an international speaker on the Maker Movement and learning space design and has presented at conferences including AASL, FETC & ISTE. Diana co-authored Challenge-Based Learning in the School Library Makerspace and is the author of Reimagining Library Spaces: Transform Your Space on Any Budget.



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