Well, here we are, a week later and none the worse for wear. I met a lot of people whose names I promptly forgot, stocked up on advanced reader copies, and did more blogging in a weekend than I sometimes do in a month.
A few nagging thoughts have been, well, nagging me since I left Anaheim, and I wasn’t sure how to string them together coherently. (I suppose the jury will still be out after this post…) Nonetheless, I thought it might be helpful for other folks thinking of going to their first big conference if I shared some tips that might have made Anaheim run a little more smoothly for me.
1. Buy a smaller laptop. This one might sound silly, but I have to assume I’m not the only one out there still lugging around a laptop built for King Kong. (I’m told they’re now politely referred to as “desktop alternatives.”) While I found having my computer immensely helpful, in the future there’s no way I want to put my neck and shoulders through the ordeal of carrying it everywhere. Unless you take your best notes on your computer or you have a compulsive need to blog from the conference instead of after (or if you’re like me and still working on a paper), you might be better off leaving the laptop home.
2. Don’t be afraid to leave. If you’re in a program that isn’t what you expected or just isn’t living up to your hopes, it’s really okay to walk out discreetly. Honestly. Of course this might be easier if you’re seated in the back or on an aisle, so keep that in mind walking in.
3. Change your plans. Although related to point 2, this is somewhat separate. While it’s certainly a good idea to map out a schedule for yourself, always be willing to change directions at the last minute. You might get invited to a cocktail party or a meal. You might discover a change to the program. Or you might go to a program on a lark and end up with Ariel Schrag’s autograph. Life is funny like that.
4. Don’t be intimidated by the vendors. You don’t really have to worry about hurting their feelings. They do this for a living. If you’re not interested, don’t feel guilted into taking something from them that you don’t need. If you know you only have a limited amount of time between sessions or before the exhibits close for the night, don’t let yourself get roped into a conversation if you’re really not into the product.
5. Look for stacks of books on the floor. If you’re unfamiliar with the wonderful world of Free Things At Conferences, look for cues that books are free. Anything with the words “Not for sale” is, well, not for sale. Key phrases like “Advanced Reader Copy” or “Uncorrected Proof” may be on the front or back of books. Paperbacks are more common, but there are sometimes free hardbacks to be found too. If you’re really feeling uncertain, watch other people. I learned that free books are often on the floor, whereas sale items tended to be on tables (and, thankfully, with pricetags nearby).
6. Read the program notes, but don’t always trust them. Since conferences are planned so far in advance, brief program notes might not always entirely line up with the programs themselves. If you feel you’ve been misled, see number 2, but also consider filling out an evaluation for the individual program. Presenters want their materials to be useful; your input can help next year’s programming improve.
7. Remember your business cards. It’s all about networking, people. If you’re like me and feel silly handing out a business card with, um, no business on it, consider a mini-card from somewhere like Moo with at least your name and contact information. But always try to get a card in return so that you can send a follow-up email; handing your card over to A Very Important Librarian who’s been getting fifty cards a day won’t get you anywhere if that librarian can’t remember why you wanted to be in touch in the first place.