“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
— Benjamin Franklin
“Conferences are so easy to get ready for!”
— No One
As you may have noticed, LiquidPlanner has been hitting the conference circuit hard this year, most recently in London at the Social Workplace Conference. Allow me to let you in on a little secret: preparing for a conference is a LOT of work, whether you’re exhibiting, giving a talk, or attending. After presenting at a few different conferences, both in the US and abroad, we’re finally getting the hang of things (I think). Using London as an example, let me share with you a few things you should remember when planning for a conference:
1) Expect things to take 2x longer than they normally would.
Here’s the actual itinerary and estimated times (this is LiquidPlanner, after all) that were written down during the planning stages for SWCONF:
- Arrival in London: 12 PM Tues
- Pre-Conference Prep: 3 PM Tues
- Customer Meetup: 5-7 PM Tues
- Lunch on Wednesday: Yes!
- Time to Assemble Booth: 30 min
- Time to Disassemble Booth: None
- Arrival in London: 3 PM Tues
- Pre-Conference Prep: 9 AM Wednesday
- Customer Meetup: 5:30 – 8:30 PM Tues
- Lunch on Wednesday: No!
- Time to Assemble Booth: 1 hour
- Time to Disassemble Booth: 2 hours
Between a delayed flight, not eating for eight hours straight on Wednesday, and taking what felt like years to disassemble the booth once the conference was over, we were quite “knackered,” as the Brits say, by the end of the trip (and hungry…oh, so hungry).
Lesson Learned: When in doubt, give yourself plenty of time to do even the smallest of tasks when in conference mode. You never know what could happen, especially when you’re abroad. Which brings us to Lesson #2…
2) Research transportation.
I cannot stress this enough. Transportation is key when sticking to a usually packed conference schedule. Once you’re late for one meeting or keynote speech, you’ll be late for everything for the rest of the day.
Specific things to keep in mind when researching how to get around:
- Make sure you’ve got the right currency on hand. At one point, we tried to pay a London cab driver in Euros, but he demanded to be paid in pounds. So remember: whatever comes out of the ATM might not be automatically usable. The more you know!
- Train doors don’t always open by themselves. Once you stop laughing, let us defend ourselves by saying that trains in Seattle have automatic doors that open at every stop, without any effort on the part of the passengers. Turns out that some trains in London require the pushing of a button. By the time this was figured out, our LP staff members were miles outside the city, armed with monitors and clad in full business suits in 80 degree weather. You do not want this to happen to you. Trust us.
- Avoid express trains. So how did our staff end up miles outside of the London after the train button fiasco? Because once they missed that one stop, they flew by four OTHER stops on an express train. Don’t get us wrong: express trains are convenient, when you know what you’re doing. Use with caution.
Lesson Learned: Get current currency, find the button, and beware express trains.
3) A conference is a great time, but the real party is happening on Twitter.
The conversations that happened on Twitter while we were at SWCONF were amazing, to say the least. Our staff introduced themselves to key contacts, arranged in person meetings, and got great feedback on the talk we gave on Social Project Management (which was mostly positive – whew!).
Lesson Learned: If you’re planning on attending a conference, make sure you have a presence on Twitter. Networking isn’t just for the conference floor anymore.
4) Leave enough time to hang out with your customers in the area.
We got to meet with a handful of our UK-based customers while we were in town, and each team we met with was more supportive and willing to give us feedback than the last. We’d especially like to give a special nod to Kevin Crump and Nick Watson, who attended the conference with us, helped us set up our booth, helped us disassemble our booth, and put up with us for an entire day. You guys rock.
Lesson Learned: Your customers care about your product – leave plenty of time in your schedule to chat with them. They’re probably really awesome.
No matter what happens during your next conference, as long as you follow our tips and “expect the unexpected,” you’ll be fine. You’re going to get to travel, meet some amazing folks, and hey, even if things go down in flames (figuratively, we hope), you’ll get a lesson and a great story out of it.