I am going to my first genealogy conference. What should I bring with me and what do you suggest I do while there to make the most of this experience. I'm planning on bringing my laptop.
I'm going to take a stab at this. Here are some things that I've learned over the years of conference attending.
- Read the program before you go and highlight or scribble down some of the sessions that look interesting to you. It's okay to have a 1st/2nd/3rd choice for a particular time slot, cuz something might get cancelled or be full by the time you get to the room. Strike through the sessions that you know are not of interest to you (don't need to waste your time re-reading things over again; that will just cloud your mind and waste your free time on the day of).
- Review the map of the venues. Make sure that you know how to get there from your hotel room and try to visualize how you will get to things like meals, mixer events, special cultural activities, etc.
- Talk to the person beside you. It is amazing how much you can learn about the industry just by uncovering what other people do in it, why they joined, what keeps them motivated and interested, etc. It may not lead you to a 'lead', but it may give you some encouragement, and at least you will have one face to nod to at the next social event later in the day.
- Take time to visit the vendors' showcase/room. You may not be able to afford all (or any) of the products they are peddling, but at least you will gain an idea of what is popular, hot, or up and coming.
- If you find someone or something interesting, ask for a business card. People might have one, or they might give you a MOO card, their Twitter handle, a web address or an email. Learning from others is one of the great boons of conferences and the learning can extend far past the conference.
- Note which speakers have their presentations online. This could save you a ton of stress and note taking.
- When someone mentions a company or website that you think might be helpful, write it down. Don't rely upon your memory. Conferences can be long and tiring. Even waiting til the end of the day in your hotel room may be too late to remember what someone told you over brunch.
- If you promise to send someone a link or other piece of information - follow up. Don't leave people hanging. This goes for contacting others that you wish to glean more information from also. If your conversation got cut off, or if there was more you wanted to ask a person, follow up as soon as possible so that it is fresh in your mind and theirs.
- You mentioned that you are bringing your laptop... Guard it like a hawk! Considering there are supposed to be 4,000+ people at this event, any technology left for a moment could disappear in the blink of an eye.
When you're planning what to take, consider your physical well-being, too.
Pack clothes that are comfortable and be ready for conference rooms that are a bit too hot, a bit too cold, or somewhere in between.
Take along good shoes so that your feet will stand up to all the walking you might do -- to classes, in the exhibit hall, out to lunch, over to the Family History Library.
Think about meals ahead of time and make sure to allow time for them so you don't find yourself too hungry to really enjoy the late-afternoon sessions.
To the excellent suggestions already posted, I would add:
- If you have a smartphone or tablet, check the conference website to see if they have an app.
- If you have not gone all-digital and are likely to pick up paper handouts and flyers, take along something to collect them. I like poly envelopes and small (6-slot) accordion files -- the ones with velcro closures on the flap are probably easier to manage than the ones that close with a button and string. if you have a multi-slot accordion file, you can empty your envelope out each night and keep everything organized by what day you picked up the handout. My favorite designs have a pocket that hold a business card, which makes it easy to mark your organizer with your name and contact information.
- Despite being able to take notes on my smartphone, I still like to carry a pocket notebook to write down email addresses and other notes, when I don't have my big notebooks with me.
- Tag your personal items with your local address (where you are staying during the conference) as well as your permanent address, in case they get lost.