Our Best Conference Checklist & Tips

At @Pay, we’ve been traveling non-stop all winter and spring to conferences—ranging in genres from tech to nonprofit to payments—and there is no end in sight. By now, we’ve become pros at packing and planning our business trips. If you’re scrambling to pack or heading to your first conference, here are a few of our best tips:

Pack smart. 

Be sure to check the weather in advance, and then plan for fluke weather days. It never fails: The weather app tells you it’s going to be sunny and 65 degrees in Austin…but you get there and it’s raining and 40 degrees half of the time. Consider packing an umbrella, a thick coat, flip flops and thin t-shirts so you’ve covered all bases. Remember you’ll be going from a professional environment during the day, to networking parties at night, so you may want to change into a different style of clothing. Pro tip: Convention centers are usually freezing, so pack a light jacket or cardigan, too.

Sunscreen and sunglasses. Many conferences require a lot of walking between hotels, conference rooms and the convention center, so be prepared for the outdoors just as much as indoors.

Deodorant and mints. You’ll be in close quarters with your coworkers and prospects all week, so be sure you’re approachable. The worst is after that free conference lunch or their happy hour hors’ doeuvres…they almost always include onions and garlic. Pro tip: Provide bowls of mints at your booth after these events and the conference attendees will come running.

Water and Kleenex. Similarly, keep water bottles and kleenex at your booth both for your own crew and for attendees. You may have to run to a nearby drugstore as soon as you arrive in the city to pick up some of these things.

Hand sanitizer. You’re going to be shaking a lot of hands. Don’t get sick!

Comfy shoes. You will be on your feet non-stop—all day at the conference, walking to after-hour events, and during late-night conference parties. Dress shoes and heels will become a problem, so just do yourself a favor and pack flats or tennis shoes.

Backpack. You’ll inevitably end up with a lot of stuff. First, you’ll need to cart around your own things (like your umbrella and deoderant), laptop, charger, conference guide, etc. Secondly, you’ll end up picking up tons of swag and snacks while at the conference. If you try to keep it in a large purse or tote bag, you’ll end up crooked by the end of the week.

Midnight snacks. When you come stumbling back from that networking party, you’re going to wish you had Doritos. Pro tip: Be smart and pack granola bars for during the day, too. The lunch crowd can overwhelm your booth and you may not get a chance to escape and eat.

Earphones. You’ll definitely want this at the airport, but you might also need it to go to sleep at night if you’re sharing a hotel room with a coworker. You’ll eventually learn which coworkers snore or shout in their sleep…

Always be charging. Do not forget your charger! In fact, consider a smartphone case that doubles as a charger, since you’ll be tweeting, sharing contact information, (and in our case, giving mobile payments demos on our smartphones all day).

Prepare for the airport. Be sure you’ve checked in and printed your boarding pass in advance. Carry some cash in case you need to give a tip (you never know when you need to hail a golf cart to zip you across the airport in 5 minutes to catch a plane). Consider your belt and shoes, since you’ll have to go through security. Consider getting a TSA Precheck Pass if you are going to lots of conferences.

Download the conference app. Most conferences have their own app these days that are chock full of useful, updated information. It can be great for scheduling and networking.

Registration. Be sure everyone understands where and when they need to go to register and pick up their badges.

Create a game plan.  Pre-select and RSVP for sessions that interest you. You should at least narrow down a tentative game plan and understand company goals for this particular conference.

Plan out your parties. Just as important (if not MORE important) as the booth, is the networking. Some of the bigger deals and partnerships happen at networking parties and happy hours. Be sure you’re going to the right ones. Pro tip: Don’t forget to hydrate!

Swag bag. If you know there will be great swag at certain booths, make a plan to go early. It’s amazing how fast a stack of awesome t-shirts can disappear! Pro tip: Be sure to leave extra room in your suitcase for all the swag you’ll be bringing back home.

Bring your laptop everywhere. There will be down-time during sessions, so don’t just twiddle your thumbs at an empty booth. This is a great moment to enter in your new sales leads and respond to emails.

Create Biz Accounts for Uber. If many of your employees are going to need to take Lyft or Uber to get around the city, go ahead and give them a company card so that they can add a Business Account to their Lyft and Uber apps. Pro tip: Everyone should go ahead and download both, in case one is unavailable or charging an outrageous premium/prime-time amount.

Business Credit Cards. Likewise, make sure the right people have business credit cards with them to pay for taxis, dinners, hotels, and unplanned expenses. Check the balance ahead of time and make sure each person understands their limits.

Business cards. Be sure everyone has enough business cards and with updated information and branding. You’ll be handing them out like hot cakes all week. Pro tip: In case of emergency, have a generic one on file that could be quickly printed out at Kinkos.

Booth Materials. Understand where conference booth materials are being delivered: warehouse, hotel, conference, etc. Designate employees to pick up and set up at certain items. This will help keep the conference from starting off like a wild goose chase.

Print. Printers can take a while, run out of ink and jam up…so be sure to print any paperwork or brochures you want well in advance.

Email. Send your final email blast to attendees.

Pack swag. Be sure someone has the swag packed in their bags or that it was shipped in advance.

Amp up your Twitter game. Make sure everyone in the company understands the correct hashtag for the conference. Your marketing department should tweet out conference information and your booth number in advance and someone should be sharing live information, quotes and photos throughout the conference to help draw traffic to your booth. Take it a step further and create or ‘Subscribe’ to a Twitter List of vendors, speakers and/or attendees.

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