Yes, You Can Be Organized at a Conference. Here's How.

BlogHer Original Post

I hate packing, but even more I hate unpacking. I hate the zillions of pieces of paper that I'm pretty sure are important. I hate losing receipts. I hate worrying my car will break down on the way home from the airport because my phone is totally dead. Do you hate these things? Read on, because after ten BlogHer conferences (plus, well, almost twenty years of business travel), I have a plan. And I'm going to share!

Yes, You Can Be Organized at a Conference. Here's How.
Image: Olu Eletu on Unsplash

The Trip Folder

For every conference or other business trip, I have a trip folder. I'm pretty lazy, so I usually use the same one over and over. Sometimes, if I'm desperate, it has a kitten on it because I stole it from my daughter's end-of-the-year school supply rejects. But I always have one.

Make one, and know where it is at all times. I keep mine in my rolling laptop bag because I am usually working on-the-go and need to have my computer with me most of the time. If you travel light, you can totally leave it in your hotel room during the day. Just don't leave it at home.

Travel Information

From the moment you decide to go to a conference, start printing out your travel details. Yes, you're also going to have all that information in your email or in a smartphone app or in your Apple Wallet or what have you, but also keep a hard copy. YOU NEVER KNOW. You could drop your phone in a toilet or leave it in a cab. I have seen both of these scenarios go down at conferences, and it is not pretty.

Stow your printed boarding passes, plane schedules, train passes, list of taxi phone numbers, Uber login, hotel confirmation and any other travel-related bit of documentation in your trip folder.

Set timers or register for text reminders so you remember to check in if you are flying. Map out driving distances or use an app like Waze to determine when you need to leave to get to the conference when you want to be there.

Use a back-up plan for your back-up plan when it comes to waking up for your travel. On my last business trip to New York City, I set my phone alarm for two different times and called the front desk for a wake-up call. I was supposed to get up at 6 am to make a 9 am flight out of my most hated airport, LaGuardia, during Friday-morning rush hour. God or my anxiety woke me up, though, not any of those alarms, and it woke me up at 6:45 instead of 6. (It was probably God, because I can sleep until noon with no problem.)

I shot out of bed and into the clothes I had laid out the night before, grabbed the bag I had packed the night before (yes, there is totally a theme here) and ran out of there. In the cab on the way to the airport, I realized I had silenced my phone during the previous evening's event and forgotten to check the volume even as I was setting both alarms. And the front desk guy? Didn't call. YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MANY ALARMS. Fortunately, the blocks-long lines of the week before had abated due to beefed-up TSA and I made my flight, but it was a white-knuckled trip to the airport.

Receipts

Even if you're not attending a conference for your employer, if you treat your blog as a business on your tax return, you're going to need to keep track of those receipts. I like to designate a particular pocket of my conference bag, handbag or outfit as "that place where all the receipts go." Immediately stow your receipts when you get them. If you met with someone while eating lunch, write that person's name on the receipt. If you tip, write the amount tipped on a piece of hotel paper and put it with the receipts. You will never remember if you left $2 or $10 for the housekeeper by the time you get home.

At the end of each day, take all your receipts, paperclip them together, and move them over to the trip folder.

When you get home, take the receipts out of the trip folder and either do your expense report or put them in your taxes envelope first thing.

Chargers

How many chargers does it take to get through a conference? Many. Phone charger, tablet charger, laptop charger, more? As we all know, those chargers are completely useless to us if we do not have them around at all times. I don't care how small your purse is: Find a way to shove your phone charger in there.

There's another hitch at a conference, though. Outlets are at a premium. I have spent many an hour on the floor at a BlogHer conference hovering near an outlet and willing my phone or laptop to please charge faster because there is a line. Portable phone battery packs abound. Get one. Stick it in your bag. Trust me on this one.

If you are like me and have a laptop bag with you, why not be a hero and bring a power strip? You could even be cute about it and put your blog name/logo on it. Hint: People will let you sit wherever you want if you have a power strip to share.

Contact Information

I think how you keep track of contact information goes with your personality. There's not really a right way. The wrong way is to lose it all. You know who you are.

I usually take every business card someone hands me and stow them all in a different (not my receipt) pocket of my laptop bag. I don't keep the cards for posterity, though - I go through the pile when I get home and either follow people on social media or link up with them on LinkedIn. You may want to Facebook friend people or add them to a fancy group in Google Hangouts. However you connect with people is fine - just don't forget to do it.

If you're a picture person, you can take a photo of someone's conference pass or business card and ditch the paper. I personally don't like to do that because I am really bad about transferring photos and thus never have any memory when I want to take a cat video. But the option is there.

Personal Effects

I don't feel right if I don't have my pertinent cards and phone with me at all times, so I carry a wristlet or use a cross-body bag at conferences and while traveling in general.

Things to include in your always-on carry-all: driver's license, insurance cards, phone (fill out that Health app if you have an iPhone and include all the medicine you take and any health conditions you have), some cash, debit/ATM card, room key, breath strips, lip gloss. And don't question me on the health info and insurance cards: Our very own General Manager of Events Lori Luna had to leave a BlogHer conference she organized once to get an emergency appendectomy.

Time

First off, download the #BlogHer16 mobile app. Spend some time with it figuring out what you want to attend, where that is, and how far that is from where you'll be right before and after it. A little legwork ahead of time saves a lot of leg work (yes, I went there) during the conference.

Don't underestimate how long it takes to do things. You won't make it from your room to the ballroom in five minutes. One word: elevators. You'll be much less stressed if you block out travel time, bio break time, snack time (there are snack times built into the overall schedule, but you may need more), calling home time, decompression time, etc. and just accept you will need it. Also build in some time to make trips back to your room or car to unload things you pick up along the way, at the Expo, etc. Dragging around a heavy bag is no fun and will make you tired before you're ready to stop for the day.

Recommendations

I'm bookish, so one of the things I always find myself acquiring any time I travel are book recommendations. I never, ever remember which book or author someone told me to read, so I finally learned to put the Goodreads app and my library's app on my phone. It doesn't take that long to add a book to my Want to Read list on Goodreads, and if I'm super-motivated, I might also put it on hold at the library. Most of my favorite books of the last two years have come out of this practice.

I also hear a lot of recommendations for TedTalks, podcasts, TV shows, movies or websites. My personal practice is to email these things to myself at work and then clear that list out when I get back to the office.

You know what types of recommendations you like to get - make sure you have an app for that. Restaurants to try, online sites selling discount running shoes, places to buy kitten folders in bulk -- keep track of those recommendations and you'll streamline your life at home, too.

Do you have any pro tips for organizing yourself at a conference? Share them in the comments.

Rita Arens is the author of the young adult novel THE OBVIOUS GAME & the managing editor of BlogHer.com.

COMMENTS

In order to comment on BlogHer.com, you'll need to be logged in. You'll be given the option to log in or create an account when you publish your comment. If you do not log in or create an account, your comment will not be displayed.

Menu