If you write about business, health care or many other subjects, chances are at least once in a while you end up at a convention.
As a tech reporter, I was a regular at more computer trade shows than I care to remember. They’re an exhausting, but excellent way to do a lot of research in a short amount of time.
Having just returned from a two-day marathon at a tech conference in Chicago, here’s my reporter’s convention survival guide:
Be prepared – Figure out a schedule ahead of time by looking over a show guide or conference line up to see what meetings you want to sit in on, then plan the rest of the time accordingly. Check if there’s a list of attendees or exhibitors list online so you can arrange meetings with people you want to interview while you’re there.
Pitch in advance – You can wait until after you get back from a conference to send queries based on what you learned. But why wait? You may be able to successfully pitch pieces based on the homework you did to get ready to go (see above).
Take meetings – Some conventions share names of reporters who’ve signed up to attend with other conference goers or exhibitors. If that’s the case, you could get bombarded with interview requests. Pick and choose which ones fit into your objectives for going to the meeting. And save room for last minute requests.
Get the hashtag – These days people go to Twitter to talk about a convention before, during and after it happens. Get in on the conversation by using the meeting’s designated Twitter hashtag. If you’re not sure what that is, check on the convention organizer’s website, or do a search or ask around on Twitter.
Give yourself down time – Schedule every single minute of a convention and you won’t leave room for those chance encounters that often lead to good tidbits for stories. Save yourself time to check email and deal with any work-related activities you can’t leave at home.
Take notes – You may live on your iPhone, but you can’t take notes on one (tweets yes, notes no). For the meeting I just went to, I brought a netbook and a plain old notepad; I took notes on the netbook during conference sessions, but used a notepad when I was doing one-on-one interviews – I find it easier to glance up at a person while I’m interviewing them when I’m not doing it from behind a screen.
Go paperless – Companies or organizations you meet with will inevitably have press releases and other materials they’ll want to give you. Unless you’re writing for the convention daily, do you really need them? If it’s news, most companies will release the same information on PR wire services, which you can find online once you’re back in your office.
Dress for success – Do not underestimate the power of comfortable shoes. There’s nothing worse than hobbling through miles of concrete convention hall floors in too tight footwear.
Recharge – Plug in laptops, phones, and any other electronic gear overnight so you don’t run out of juice during the day. The same goes for you – if you’re somewhere you’ve never been before, have friends in town or are invited to convention-related events, it’s tempting to stay out late. Just give yourself enough time to rejuvenate before the next day.
Do a data dump – Once a convention’s over, jot down everything you learned, want to follow up on, need more information about, story ideas you want to pursue, etc., as quickly as possible while it’s still fresh in your mind. The same goes for transcribing interview notes – you may not end up writing a story you pitched for months, and if you wait until then to look over convention notes they won’t make as much sense as they do a few hours or days after the fact. If I flew to a meeting, I do a data dump on the plane home.
Follow up – Back in your office, go through notes for any follow up you committed to and jump on it right away.
What are your secrets for convention success?