Whether this is your first conference or your tenth, it is always easy to get stressed out and overwhelmed with the enormity that is ALA Annual. With approximately 25,000 people attending annual every year it’s easy to get lost within the crowd on the exhibits floor alone. Add in over 250 different programs, plus 2,500 separate events, and your head can swim. However, there are some tricks to keep your sanity about you and not only make the most of conference but have some fun as well!
- GET ORIENTED AHEAD OF TIME: Take the time to look at the map of the convention center, as well as the layout of the convention hotels and the bus routes. All convention centers are HUGE, and a majority of the time there are at least two hotels that have similar names within the conference block. Finding out beforehand which way is which and what hotel is on what bus route can save a lot of time later on.
- MAKE A SCHEDULE BEFORE YOU START TRAVELLING: Long gone are the days where you had to wait for the huge phonebook of a conference schedule and pore through it to find where every session is going to be. The ALA Schedule is open to everyone so go through and find the sessions you want to attend, as well as the authors you might want to get books signed from, and exhibits and vendors you want to visit. If you’re getting paid to attend conference, or have to report back on a particular topic for work, make sure to include sessions on those topics. Note that if you want to save your session selections, you have to be registered for the conference.
- TAKE A REALISTIC LOOK AT THAT SCHEDULE: Now, take a realistic look at the schedule you just made. Do you have two sessions overlapping? Do you have one session in the convention center and the next (or previous) session in a conference hotel? Did you steal Hermione’s time turner or the Blue Fairy’s wand? Make sure that your schedule is actually realistic based on what you can physically do. Make sure that you get to the most important things that you want to (or have to) do, and be ready shrug off the rest if you don’t make them.
- REMEMBER TO TAKE TIME FOR YOU: Conferences are informational and educational but they need to be fun and restorative as well. If you’re scheduled from dawn to midnight, every day, you’re going to be exhausted by Sunday and a zombie by the time you get back home. Find something that is purely fun for you to do, whether it’s a session that you’re curious about, or a social event that you want to attend, or going out for sightseeing. Ignoring the theme parks, Orlando and the surrounding areas have a pantheon of museums, theaters, restaurants, and other opportunities to explore without going near a tourist attraction. (For example, did you know that the largest collection of Tiffany works is housed here?)
- REMEMBER TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF: It’s extremely easy to run ourselves ragged during a normal workday; conference can multiply it just because we’re running from program to session and really, do you want to eat something from the conference center floor? Yet if you don’t take care of yourself you can find yourself sick on your way home. Remember to hydrate and eat (bring a refillable bottle and snacks in a bag), and try to get some solid sleep at night. Protect your tomorrow.
- GO OLD SCHOOL: I don’t know how many times I’ve seen people scrambling to find plugs for their tech partway through the day during a conference because they use it not only for schedules and maps but note taking during sessions. Bring paper and pen and take notes that way, and transpose them later to your tech. It seems like such a simple thing, but when you have less than 10% battery or are cursing your network connection or the wonky conference WiFi, your sanity will thank you.
- REMEMBER TO MAKE CONVERSATION: The best conversations I’ve had have been at conferences and in the most unlikely of places. I’ve had wonderful conversations in line for authors, waiting for a session to start, and sharing a table during lunch. Some of my best friends are conference friendships that I’ve developed over the years, some started from committees and some started from chance conversations on buses and in line. And I am an introvert through and through; I have to force myself to start talking to others some days. If you make the effort, however, it can be worth it.
- BE YOURSELF: Even though you’re making an effort to talk to people, be yourself. Don’t be some strange person that you wouldn’t recognize; that just adds to your stress. So think about what you really need and give yourself that. Recognize what you need to be you: if you need coffee to survive the day, figure out where in the hotel or conference center you can find it. If you get completely overwhelmed by everything, it’s OK to go back to your room and just turn on the TV for the night. No one is judging you by what you do or do not do at conference.
- DRESS AS YOURSELF: Unless you’re going to the job placement center for a job interview, or you’re formally presenting, there is no right or wrong way to dress at conference. A lot of people will tell you “business casual” but you will see everything from shorts and t-shirts (what I normally wear) to formal suits. Wear what you will be comfortable in. If you’re most comfortable in dress clothes, wear those. If you’re comfortable in sundresses, wear those. Wear comfortable shoes as it will be a lot of walking, but wear what you will be most comfortable in.
- GIVE YOURSELF A GOOD AMOUNT OF TIME TO GET BACK THROUGH THE AIRPORT: If you’re flying back through Orlando International Airport from conference, give yourself a good amount of time to get through security. Normally the airport says two hours before your flight is a good rule of thumb for a domestic flight; however, it’s high travel season in Orlando and the TSA lines get back up immensely, even without the events of this week. In previous weeks wait times at the TSA checkpoints were as high as 90 minutes at peak times. There are a lot of sites that you can use to see the current reported wait times (such as iFly) but they can change within 15 minutes. It’s better to get through security early and wait for your flight than see your plane leave without you.
Do you have any go-to tips for keeping sane during conference? Share them with us!