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Attendee Survival Guide

You’re a pro at planning and running conferences, but do you know how to make the most of it when you’re on the delegate side? 

By Doug O’Neill

You’ve finally managed to carve some time to attend that buzz-worthy industry conference you’ve heard so much about. But optimizing the expe­rience takes more than just clicking “register.” It also requires emotional and social energy—along with physical stamina.

Seasoned conference-goers develop their own energy-efficient strategies. Michele Sponagle, past president of the Travel Media Association of Canada, learned early in her career how to best maintain her conference mojo: “I try to do advance research for meetings to ensure they’re productive and a good use of my time and energy. I make sure I have plenty of downtime so I can recharge. I'm not a natural extrovert so being ‘on’ takes a lot of energy. I tend not to stay very late at evening functions because I need decompression time back in my hotel room.”

Know yourself
Maureen McKenna, Energy Catalyst & Change Maker with the Toronto-based management con­sultant firm Return to Energy, emphasizes that each professional will discover their own way of maintaining energy levels at conferences. “Learn what worked for you at large group gatherings in the past and re-create those conditions: Did you carve out downtime on Day One, did you skip a 90-minute seminar and have a one-on-one meeting instead? Did you sleep in or go for a morning run after yoga? Pay close attention to what enabled you to stay energized at past conferences—and let that guide you.”

Manage emotional and intellectual bandwith
Brains are like sponges—they can only absorb so much. Career coach Morag Johnston follows a Rule of 3: “Talk to three people each day with the goal of creating a reason for follow up. It’s no good if you burn yourself out on Day One by talking to 12 people and retreating to your bed, curled up in a fetal position.”

Strategize to energize
Keep these tactics in mind to stay on the ball from the opening keynote to the closing gala:

- Get enough sleep. Save the late-night party­ing for the final night.

- Exercise—generate those feel-good endor­phins. Maureen Littlejohn, who recently co-hosted a tourism conference in Ireland for the Canadian chapter of the Society of American Travel - Writers, says: “I like to go the gym for an hour in the morning or go for a walk to get the blood and oxygen flowing.”

- Eat smart. High-protein, high-energy foods are best. Avoid lunches of carb-heavy pasta which will make you sleepy for the afternoon. Monitor alcohol intake.

- Take a mid-day breather, preferably outside.

- Talked out? “Then simply listen,” says Mika Ryan, manager of travel media relations and partnerships for Destination British Columbia.

Plan ahead
Try these tips to make sure you’re ready:

- Try arriving a day early and scope out the conference centre, and the route from your hotel.

- Don’t overwork yourself beforehand, says Tony Perdomo, business development manager at Exodus Travel: “I absolutely take it easy the day before a conference so I can rest my voice and save my energy for the next day.”

- Pack nutritious, energy snacks which might not be available at the destination.

- Organize all of your appointments, keynote lectures and seminar sessions in advance. Being frazzled drains energy—and doesn’t look professional.

- Drink lots of H20. Experts say eight cups of water per day can boost energy levels and improve concentration.

- Book a hotel room that allows you to rest and re-energize at night. Do you need a bathtub to revitalize? Avoid sharing a room with a colleague if possible.

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