1. Wear comfortable walking shoes. Ladies leave the high heels at home. You will regret wearing them at the end of the first day. One reason I say this is that the convention center tends to be huge and you could have to walk about a half a mile or more just to get from one meeting room to another. Additionally, the hotels are not all located right next door and neither are the restaurants for the receptions. So you will be doing a lot of walking and in many cases will need to do so quickly. You will notice most people are in their sneakers by Thursday or Friday.
2. Leave time between meetings. This one has gotten me many times. I book meetings back to back and forget that it will take me at least 10-15 minutes to get from the meeting spot to the exhibit hall (and find the booth I need) or vice versa. You need to leave time between meetings so you can transport yourself across vast distances.
3. A few money saving tips. Use the receptions for your dinners and other meals. Many of us get invited to multiple receptions every night. They normally don't have dinner but they usually have enough snacks that you can make a meal if you attend 2-3. This goes the same for breakfast meetings and luncheons. Plus, let's be honest, you will not have time to sit down for a real dinner or meal all week so you need to eat when you can.
4. Buy a power pack to charge your devices. If you are anything like me and are connected all the time via social media, email, etc., you will need an extra battery pack to charge your devices during the day because they will not survive from the beginning of the day to the end without a little help. I just purchased one and wish I had it several conferences ago. Click here to view the one I purchased. It seems to work pretty well.
5. Drink lots of water! I say this not only because it is good for your body in general but for several others reasons. One you will be doing a lot of talking and you don't want to lose your voice. Many of my friends lose their voice by the end of the conference. This may still happen but at least you can prolong it from happening possibly. Also, the convention center and the hotel rooms tend to be really dry and dry everything out including your throat. I always carry a bottle of water around with me and fill it up often during the day. They generally have either drinking fountains or portable water to fill up with around the convention center for everyone.
6. Have a plan of attack for the expo hall. The Expo Hall is huge. There are literally hundreds of booths throughout this massive space. This means if you are planning on gleaning any information from this expo hall you need to know who you want to visit and which booths you definitely want to stop by. If you don't, you will get lost in this massive space. Believe it or not I have gotten lost in there at least once every year. The booths all look alike after awhile. I suggest creating a list of those exhibitors you want to visit and then organize them by their booth number. Then start at one end of the Expo Hall and work your way to the other. You will need to do this over the course of several days since unless you are planning on spending 3-4 hours or more in the Expo Hall at one time, you will not be able to make it to all the exhibitors on your list at one time.
7. If you are presenting, do not count on the internet working. Make sure you include screen shots in your presentation in case the internet doesn't work. I have given too many presentations and been in too many rooms where the internet doesn't work or is so slow you can't do what you want. This also includes embedding videos into your presentation vs. counting on the internet to play them. If the internet works great but, if not you still can show what you want people to see.
These are some of my favorite tips and tricks for newbies to the NAFSA conference as well as a refresher for the veterans. If you have any great tips please let feel free to add them here.