Packing for a Conference and Other Wily Tricks

Fellow-blogger Sue Waters cry for help on how to organise herself for a conference trip, evoked a stream of advice and tips. I couldn’t wait to join the queue ready to tell her how to reduce travel-anxiety, make lists, pack the right stuff, and arrive unflustered, have a great conference, and leave with everything (including mobile bits and bobs and her sanity) intact.

I was so impressed with what I fired off in response, that I thought I’d expand the comment into a full-blown post.

This is the expanded gist of what I sent to Sue.

My life is pretty much run via lists, and I find you can’t beat pen and paper. Put a copy of the list of stuff you are taking inside your suitcase, so you don’t forget anything when you leave. Alternatively, make a master list in your notebook for reference.

Sue takes notes on presentations on a wiki or via Google docs for later blogging. I use a dedicated-conference notebook for this, and follow up with a later post. I suppose I am in transition from paper to digital … maybe I’ll always like the pen on paper experience, but I like to have my scratchings to refer to, to cross-check, and for backup, should things crash. I use a separate notebook for each project. Right now I’m using Moleskine small and large cahier notebooks. Moleskines are so well designed, so darned sexy, and they do make me feel like one of the in-crowd.

Check and recheck all your equipment (spare batteries are a good idea). It’s really important not to forget all the right connection tools (cables, VGAs etc) if you are using your laptop. Get a bag and keep all your connectors, cables etc. in it. This will save you a lot of angst if you have a non-standard Mac, for example, as I do (12″ G4 Powerbook which needs mini-connectors). I love my little 12″ by the way. It’s been conferencing round the world with me, and is small enough to sit snugly in a generous -sized handbag. (See below your ‘Best Travelling Companion.’) They’ll probably have to pry it from my fingers when it finally dies, or I go over to the new MacBook Pro lineup one day … one day …

Make friends with the tech guys at the conference. This is really important if you are giving a presentation. Be nice anyway. They tend to be the unsung heroes of these gatherings and do appreciate recognition. They also have great insider information and tips … and maybe spare cables and connectors if you have forgotten yours.

If the conference organisers get it right and there is wireless broadband, it’s bliss, otherwise pain, expensive pain at a conference like this. (Sue was going to an e-learning conference).

Take photos with your mobile and backup on Flickr for distribution and access if you are able to. This can be an expensive exercise, depending on your carrier’s plan. A small point and shoot camera is just as good, but don’t forget the connector cable or card reader. The gadgets mount up, don’t they?

Re Twitter, put your contact details on the conference noticeboard when you get there and ask other users to join in. I’m intrigued at how Twitter would work at a conference. Do the same with your blogsite. Will there be a conference blog? Interesting potential if there is. I sense the arrival of live blogging into the conference arena. PS 3 years later … did I ever get this right! 🙂

By the way, is it just me, or would it be a good idea for conference organisers to facilitate some kind of pre-conference listing of delegates with contact info. In this way the Twits and bloggers can link up and get prepped.

If you are giving a presentation, have it on your desktop and backed up on a USB stick. I even keep mine on a server out there, just in case. By the way, if you have a blog, get the URL printed on your business card and distribute freely.

Take a generous-sized handbag and think of it as your ‘Best Travelling Companion.’ Yes, this is the one item for the traveller, that can provide the most delight or the most angst. Girls, I know you know what I mean.

Have mobile phone, will travel

I’ve actually missed being able to blog on a daily basis while I was away. I took to paper (a small Moleskine notebook) and pen to keep my random scribblings going. This way, I have my journal entries for use in another medium … maybe a webpage with a link from here? A project for later. I did keep my Tumblr account with automatic links from Twitter operating, but sporadically, and this was useful given my deliberate lack of access via conventional means (laptop, cyber-cafe).

Using the Nokia N95 to phone in my tweets and comment was clunkier than I had expected, mostly because of the layout and size of the phone … it has all the features but I can’t speed-type as I usually do. Quick bursts like Twitter tweets automatically relayed to Tumblr were fine, but forget longer blog posts via the mobile route and uploads to Flickr. This proved frustrating when I found wifi access in London to be less reliable than I had expected … read slow and with frequent dropouts.

Now I could have taken my laptop, and I could have used cybercafes, but this was an experiment with a new piece of hardware … a mobile phone, and also with travelling light. I hate all that unpacking and starting up of laptops at airport security checks Would I go light again? Probably not; my blogging capacity was curtailed. But did I like the camera on the N95. Absolutely! This is a very good substitute for carrying around a larger DSL and I’m extremely happy with the results.

Preparing a cyber-diary

My first trip overseas was waaaay back in 1968, and I was then, and still am, an inveterate recorder of sights and impressions. Then it was a leather-bound diary (which I still have) filled with memories. This time round, I want to try another approach. As I leave for London and far too much theatrical indulgence in just over a week’s time, I thought it useful to prepare a check-list of how I intend keeping a cyber-diary; incidentally, doesn’t ‘cyber’ sound so old-fashioned now? I feel I should be writing ‘my Web 2.0 diary’ or some such.

I will take my Nikon D40 to capture some quality images in a couple of photo assignments I’m planning, but intend to use the Nokia N95 super-phone which has lately entered my life, to snap, and diarise via Flickr. This will keep family and friends in touch with my whitterings and gadding about.

I’m planning on using Tumblr as the best showcase to integrate content. It’s got a nice dynamic feel to it; I love the templates which are clean and easy to look at. Like all Tumblogs, mine will be snips of text, images, audio files, and links to places I’ve been. Given I have an account with WiFiMobile, a wireless VOIP service, I intend finding as many hotspots as I can to piggyback access to the web, and call home for free or nearly-free.

The other quick and dirty way to get snippets to Tumblr fast is through Twitter. Yes, Twitter can be an amazing little time-waster, but given that I may want to get a text posting (up to 140 characters only) up quickly and via mobile, this is also ideal. I’ve arranged a feed from my Twitter to head straight to Tumblr. Now I have a couple of alternatives for posting.

Text and images, links etc., up via Tumblr, and quick text via Twitter. Flickr for just pix and a caption, with the option of placing the photo on the Flickr map.