Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Professional Convention Survival Kit

Happy Convention Season, everyone! Several huge conventions and conferences have already come and gone both nationally and in my region (NACA, NODA, and NGLA, to name a few!) and we're knocking on the door of our field's biggest conventions of the year - the ACPA National Convention in Montréal, and the NASPA National Convention in Indianapolis! I'm lucky enough to be able to attend ACPA with a colleague and friend of mine from MHC and I'm super excited! This will be my first professional convention as an #SApro and I couldn't be more thrilled to network with colleagues from all around the world!

As I gear up for my time in Canada I'm reflecting back on my first time at a professional conference and thinking about all the things I wish I knew before. I've compiled a little survival kit for all of you first time conference-goers so hopefully you can feel comfortable, prepared, and you can totally focus on networking and learning during your time at your convention! I wrote this with mainly Student Affairs conventions in mind, but this can very easily translate to professional conventions of other fields, so please feel free to incorporate whatever makes sense into your professional convention survival kit!

1. Water Bottle
This is super-duper important. When you're at a conference, you might be walking around way more than you realize and probably drinking more coffee than you realize to make it through these long days. Make sure you always have a bottle of water in your bag to sip on throughout the day. I recommend the 17.5 oz. S'well bottle - I've had mine for over a year and I love it. It will keep your water nice and cold for 24 hours which is perfect for being in the convention center without access to a refrigerator throughout the day.

2. Comfy-yet-Professional Shoes
As I mentioned in my last post, you're walking a lot during a professional convention and those heels that might look sharp on the morning of Day 1 will likely make your poor feet beg for mercy by lunch time! If you opt for heels, I would recommend sticking a professional pair of flats in your bag to change into if you want to give your feet a break in the middle of the day. You'll be comfy and still look super profesh.

3. Pocket-Pack of Tissues
The last thing you want mid-educational-session is a runny nose and no option of what to do about it. A pocket-pack of tissues is a perfect solution - it's tiny, fits right in your bag or pocket, and can potentially be a life saver when you can't get to a bathroom or back to your hotel room for a while. Keep one of these on hand for some peace of mind!

4. Gum or Mints
When you're at a conference, you're talking and networking with lots of people throughout the entire event and that even includes directly after you had that bowl of pasta with extra garlic bread during your lunch break. Pack some gum or mints with you in your bag or pockets for when your mouth is feeling a little gross and you can't get back to your hotel room to brush your teeth.

5. Lip Balm
Convention centers can be on the dryer side and depending on what region of the country you're traveling to, the wind or sun can be a bit more intense making chapped lips a big possibility. Combine that with the amount of talking you'll likely be doing (be it through presenting, networking, or some good old fashioned socializing), it can be a pretty uncomfortable time to have cracked, dry lips. Pack a good moisturizing lip balm (mine's the classic original Chapstick moisturizer with SPF 12) to keep your lips feeling good!

6. Excedrin/Tylenol/Advil etc. & Any Medication Needs
Headaches are pretty common for me and with all of the walking, talking, long hours, and caffeine that a convention entails, they seem to be triggered even easier. Always having an emergency supply of pain relief in my bag is key for conference-going (and for life) so I can feel like myself throughout each day. Also remember to take along any other medication needs you might have and are able to bring with you comfortably so you don't have to miss a session you've been eyeing by running back to your room!

7. Business Cards
As I've said several times before in this post, networking is a big part of conferences! Having some business cards handy is always way easier than scrambling for a pen and paper to write down your information for someone. My institution has provided me with business cards, but if you don't have university-issued cards, it is relatively cheap to print your own. I used Moo as a grad student and you can make some really cool cards! Remember to keep your information simple and to the point, including your name, title, institution, and a means of contacting you.

8. Something to Write With & Something to Write On
Conventions are also a great place to learn! Educational sessions are probably my favorite parts about conventions and I take a *ton* of notes when learning from my colleagues. Having a way to write down things you want to remember to bring back to campus with you is always handy! I like to carry a small notebook & a pen (I'm planning on using my FoxyDori and my favorite Pilot G2 pens!) but sometimes I opt for my iPad and the Microsoft OneNote app instead.

9. Your Convention's Electronic Program
Many conventions are adopting an electronic program which I'm a huge fan of! These apps allow you to add any session you want to attend to a schedule and it pings you when it's close to time to that session which is so helpful when you get distracted with everything that goes on at a convention. I've used guidebook and a specialized NACA electronic program, and for ACPA '16 the convention program is on an app called CrowdCompass. If you utilize a smartphone or a tablet during your time at a convention, I highly recommend using one of these apps in favor of toting around the giant convention guidebook!

10. Portable Power Bank + Phone Charger
These things are a total life saver when you're in the convention center all day! It's likely that you'll be constantly checking your electronic program, tweeting along at educational sessions, and texting your colleagues to set up lunch plans. Usually a portable power bank will hold at least one full charge worth of power for your phone, so having one charged up and ready to go will help you out when you don't have time to search high and low for an outlet!

I hope this little survival kit helps you get through your convention of choice this season!
Let me know what your convention survival essential is in the comments!

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