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The Essential Pre-Conference Packing and Preparation List

Tweetable_Quote_MarthaI just got out of a meeting where our #INBOUND14 event leader told us to remember to bring a bunch of stuff to the BCEC next week (we're having out big annual conference -- if you still want tickets, they're available 'til Sunday!)

It prompted me to start a pretty lengthy personal pre-conference to-do list: stuff to prepare, stuff to bring, that sort of thing. After I got through it all, I felt like it could be useful for anyone attending pretty much any conference soon. So, for those attending INBOUND next week, gearing up for other conferences in the fall, or just really into organization, here's a little checklist to keep with you so you don't forget to do, or bring, critical stuff. 

What to Pack & Prepare Before Any Big Conference

1) Get a map of the conference center.

Conference centers are big. They have like 47,000 entrances and exits. Often, they all look exactly the same. And if you're like me, someone saying "Go to the North Entrance" means nothing, because I'm not a human compass. Give yourself a leg-up by accessing a conference map and printing that bad boy out -- or simply bookmarking it on your phone's browser for reference as you move from session to session.

For INBOUND attendees, you don't even have to mess with that ... just download the mobile app. It tells you where everything in the conference center is located. It will be your best friend next week.

2) Get a map of the area, too.

If you're venturing into unfamiliar territory, bring a map of the area -- or use Google Maps to orient yourself.

If you're coming to INBOUND, here's a link that'll explain the area and where you're going, and here's some information about fun stuff in the area, divided up by "persona" -- because we're geeky like that. 

3) Pack a sweater so you can layer.

Weather in Boston is crazy, so if you're coming to INBOUND, I have one word for you: layers. It could be 80. It could be 50. Welcome to Beantown.

But this goes for any conference -- conference centers typically blast the A/C to account for the body heat attendees generate, and it may be a little too cold for some conference goers.

If you run cold like I do, you'll be glad you have some layers to pile on. If you run hot, you strut those summer legs for a few more weeks, you firecracker, you.

4) Grab your laptop and charger.

You'll need it to take notes in sessions, live-blog, and do a little work/emailing. I look forward to seeing folks gathered around the outlets and charging station next week -- they're like the water coolers of conferences ;-)

5) Don't forget your phone charger, too.

At the very least, bring a USB to charge your mobile from your computer. If you want to be extra prepared, bring a wall charger so your laptop better doesn't drain so fast. (And if you want to make some friends, bring a power strip, too.)

6) Get a stack of business cards -- more than you think you'll need.

I'm notorious for forgetting business cards. I've already put them in my purse for next week. (Cross that off the to-do list.)

7) Figure out the must-see sessions, and must-do activities.

There's likely a ton of stuff going on at any big conference -- you won't be able to see and do it all. Check out the agenda, sessions, networking events, and parties, and prioritize the ones you absolutely cannot miss. List those out, along with times and locations, to make it easy for you to plan your time at the event.

(Hint: If you're coming to INBOUND, the mobile app will make this easy to do with functionality to plot this all out right within the app. Download it here for iOS, here for Android.)

8) Figure out who you want to meet.

Research attendees that are going to the conference you would love to meet. It gives you time to set up meetings, research, and prepare. Also ... you probably guessed I was going to say this, but .. if you're going to INBOUND you can download the app and find other attendees. There, I said it. Just download the app okay?

9) Figure out how check-in/registration works.

Whenever I show up at a big conference, I get all swept away with the enormity of the thing and just want to dive right into exploring, sessions, networking, etc. Only I can't. Because I'm not checked in yet.

Boooo.

It's a boring necessity, but if you know how it works in advance, you can get it done much more quickly -- and get to the conference fun a lot sooner. Research the process beforehand so you know:

  • Where registration is located
  • What time it starts
  • What you need to bring to get checked in
  • If there's an early check-in so you can skip the lines

That last one is critical. If you come at peak times, like the first day of the conference, or an hour before opening keynote, you're going to face longer lines. That's just the way it is. Make your life easier and show up in off-hours -- we're encouraging people at INBOUND to show up on Sunday from 2-6, or early Monday (registration opens at 7:30 AM that day) to beat the lines.

10) Set your out-of-office (OOO) autoreply message, and enjoy yourself!

If you need some inspiration for an OOO message (or a delayed response message, if you're still checking email while you're away), check out this post of hilarious and creative OOO replies.

insider's guide to INBOUND 2014

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