#DrewsViews: 10 Tips to Make the Most Out of Your Conference Experience
by Andrew Adams
Last week was Creating Change — one of the biggest LGBTQ conferences in the country. While I didn’t go this year, I’ve been to a ton of different conferences over the years, including the Philly Trans Wellness Conference, and several smaller local events. Conferences can be on any topic and in any city, so going to conferences, especially for groups seeking to keep learning and growing in their area, has become a shared experience for a lot of people. I love conferences, but I definitely didn’t make the most of my time at some of these amazing gatherings. Here are my top 10 tips for anyone going to any conference!
Plan your day
Knowing what sessions you are going to go to before you get there is a great way to stay organized in the midst of an overwhelming conference center. Conference organizers will typically post their schedule on their website long before the actual conference starts.
Bring a phone charger
Trust me, you don’t want your phone to die, because it will time it’s low battery for as soon as you start texting your friends about where you are going to dinner, and it will be really inconvenient for everyone involved.
You will need extra space in your bags for all of the free stuff that conferences give you. T-shirts, cups, pens, keychains, and even bigger items like bags, mugs, and portable phone chargers. If you didn’t bring a bag, you might want to go to the table giving away free drawstring bags first.
Have a notepad and pen ready
You might want to take notes in a session or two, especially if you go to a more professional lecture, like about medical procedures or legal cases, or area specific terminology that you might want to make note of.
Print your ticket, pass, or anything you will need, if at all possible
I’ve entirely missed a session I was really excited about because the line to check in was so long. If I had pre-checked in, it would have saved me a lot of trouble.
Conferences can be overwhelming, crowded, and tiring. Give yourself time to relax, unwind, reflect on the sessions you went to, and breathe. Also, hydrate.
Bring a jacket, even if the conference is in Texas in August
Conferences are often held at conference centers or hotel meeting spaces, which are often kept pretty cold. A jacket would be the best option, so that you can take it on and off if some spaces are vastly different temperatures, but if you are in a cold place or don’t anticipate leaving the air conditioning, a hoodie or sweater would also work just fine.
Don’t push yourself to go to back to back sessions all day
Meal times are usually built into the conference schedule, but make sure that you leave time in your schedule for food, hydration, and rest. Also, you will want to set at least an hour or so aside, especially for the bigger conferences, where you are look at all of the different vendors, tables, and fun activities that are part of the conference experience, but not in a session.
A lot of vendors will only take cash, and sometimes vending machines are the only way to get a bottle of water conveniently, so you’ll want to keep some cash on you.
Find a good balance between going to sessions and having fun
I have wasted my fair share of time at a conference because I wanted to talk to the people I had met instead of going to a session that would have been really helpful to me. Don’t be like me.
With these tips, your conference experience should be a lot smoother than some of mine. I’d love to hear any other tips that anyone has for conferences, as I’m always looking to improve. I hope everyone is having a good day and I’ll see you at a conference near you!
About the Author:
Andrew Adams is a transgender college freshman at the University of Central Florida who is committed to LGBTQ advocacy at the local and national levels. Nationally, Andrew serves as a youth ambassador and advocacy volunteer for The Trevor Project, a youth social media ambassador for the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and a Volunteer and Intern Coordinator for Point of Pride. On the legislative side, Andrew lobbies for the Equality Act by visiting with his Congressional representatives and their staff.
Additionally, Andrew has spent years fighting to change his school district’s bathroom policy to be trans-inclusive, and the fight is still ongoing. Andrew is an International Baccalaureate student and a volunteer at the Mayo Clinic, and he hopes to go to medical school and become an adolescent psychiatrist specializing in transgender health. For fun, he practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, creates sculpture art and plays the piano.