With more than 20 years of conference going experience under my belt, I feel as though I’ve become a bit of an expert on this particular subject. At various times over my career I’ve been an attendee, a speaker and even a chairman a time or two. With the three day Wine Bloggers Conference just around the corner I thought I would share some of what I’ve learned over the years to help you successfully navigate your way around any conference and also avoid the many pitfalls that exist to the unwary.
Let me say at the outset that these survival tips apply only tangentially to the upcoming Wine Bloggers Conference. My conference going experience to date has been almost exclusively dedicated to the tax arena which, as you may surmise, is about as far on the other side of the fun spectrum from wine blogging as exists in the time/space continuum. That’s right friends, there are entire weeklong conferences dedicated to the subject of taxes, and you can bet that they are just as hot and sultry as you imagine them to be! As close as I’ve ever been to the fun end of the conference spectrum was speaking at a craft brewers convention a few years ago at which they asked me to present with a pilsner at the lectern. My presentation was at 9am.
So with that in mind, here are a few lessons that I’ve learned over the past two decades of conference going to help you out…
Find the (better) restroom. Rookie conference goers will use the restrooms immediately outside of the main conference hall. Don’t be fooled – no need to stand in line for ten minutes for the privilege of sharing the facilities with 200 of your closest friends. These conference halls (either in a hotel or a dedicated facility) are labyrinths that are designed to host multiple conferences at the same time. So just walk the hallway toward one of the other large conference rooms that isn’t currently in use and there you will find your very own restroom (just don’t tell anyone where it’s located). (Editor’s Note: spouses are exceptions to this “don’t tell anyone” rule).
Monitor your coffee and sugar intake. This probably should have been listed as survival tip #1. Either at the back of the main hall or in the exhibitors hall there will undoubtedly be a tanker sized vat of black coffee next to several trays of Costco chocolate chip cookies. I know exactly what you’re thinking: “Awesome!” No. No it is very much not awesome. Cookies and coffee are the opioids of the conference world and if you’re not careful you’ll be so hopped up on caffeine and sugar you’ll need a methadone clinic visit of your own to help you come down. Allow yourself one of each in the morning and the same after lunch. That’s it. (Editor’s Note: as this is a wine blogging conference, avoid drinking coffee too close to any actual wine tasting to avoid completely screwing up your palate. Same goes for brushing your teeth.)
Stretch. Sitting all day is terrible for you so get up and walk around. It’s ok to stand at the back of the room during an entire presentation. You’re not being rude as long as you’re not the guy who shows off his yoga skills by doing a headstand in the main conference room. FYI: I actually witnessed a guy waiting at the departure gate at SeaTac Airport go into a full headstand right smack in the middle of everyone waiting for the plane. I still hate that guy and that was like five years ago. (Editor’s Note: perhaps doing some yoga of your own my dear Hubs would help you with this anger that you’ve been holding onto for so many years.)
Hydrate. Drink a ton of water – I’m not kidding. Those conference rooms are where fresh air goes to die and you’ll otherwise dry out by the mid-morning break. I’m talking Las-Vegas-casino-before-smoking-was-banned level of stale air, just without the lingering waft of desperation mixed with Drakkar Noir. There’s typically a bunch of water bottles at the back of the room or in the exhibitors hall so load up accordingly. (Editor’s Note: I completely agree with Hubs here – a rare occurrence.)
Be a good conference neighbor. This should be self explanatory, but as with most things in life that fall into that category, it unfortunately is not. Generally clean up your area, if you get a phone call take it outside (we get it, you’re a very busy and important person who owns a cell phone and we are all duly impressed with your station in life), don’t eat a bag and a half of Doritos so loud that we can’t hear the speaker, etc. You know what, this goes beyond conference etiquette – just generally follow these simple rules in life. (Editor’s Note: another wine blogging conference specific: mind the spit buckets! Don’t go jostling the table too much or slamming your chair into the table behind you and putting your fellow conference goers at risk for dump bucket spillage. Nobody wants to be Miles.)
Leave the cocktail reception early. At the end of Day 1 there is always a cocktail reception for the attendees. Go early and – here comes the really important part – leave early. Tomorrow is another full day of presentations and the last thing you need is to be sweating booze while wondering why the hell you decided to karaoke the entire soundtrack of Grease 2. Also, if invited, politely decline attending the after party at a local bar with your newfound “conference buddies.” Nothing good ever comes from attending a conference after party. (Editor’s Note: Ahem… is there something you’d like to share with me?)
OK – that should be enough to get you through. Godspeed my conference going friends.