Conference room at IFBC 2010

It's a new year. Is one of your goals to attend an upcoming food blogging conference? Feel overwhelmed just thinking about it?  Well Marie from Food Nouveau has some great tips for you about how to prepare for such a conference:

Attending a conference for the first time can be thoroughly anxiety inducing. Novices tend to stress about anything and everything, from wondering how to meet new people to deciding what to pack for the conference. Being a shy and reserved person (as many writers are), I had knots in my stomach before I set foot at my first-ever conference, afraid that I wouldn’t introduce myself in the right way or that I would be stuck all alone for the entire duration. If you feel the same, I have good news for you: food brings people together. Never have I met people so eager to get to know each other than when at a food conference.
The best way to enjoy a conference is to arrive prepared. Here are five tips that will help you break the ice and, I hope, allow you to get to the conference smiling and ready to make the most of it.

1. Get acquainted online

A few weeks before the conference, people generally start chatting about the conference on Twitter. Find out the conference’s hashtag and keep an eye on it. You’ll see tweets like, “Excited about the upcoming #conference, who else is going?” Don’t hesitate to reply (or to post such a message yourself), as this is an excellent way to connect to other attendees. At the conference, you can be on the lookout for your new acquaintances and – just like that – you’ll have friends to hang out with. 

Keep informed about special events and parties that are planned outside of the regular schedule. Twitter is the best way to know about these events and – once again – to connect with other people who plan on going, as well.

Also, make sure to visit the conference’s forum (if there is one). Use it to find tips about your destination, restaurant recommendations or even a roommate.

Daniel Klein, Penny DeLosSantos and Kim Severson IACP 2011

2. Be ready to introduce yourself

The best way to be remembered by the many people you’ll meet over the course of the conference is to distribute a personalized business card featuring your name, your blog’s name and address, and your contact info (including your Twitter handle). Business cards are cheap and easy to order online – just make sure you do so enough in advance to get them on time for the conference.

Prepare your ‘elevator pitch’ and rehearse it, if necessary. You’ll need to be able to introduce yourself, your blog and what you do in a few seconds flat. Highlight what you do best using easy-to-remember keywords and make it interesting or intriguing: that’ll make people curious about you and entice them to get in a conversation with you. 

Your elevator pitch will also be handy if you meet the speakers or anyone famous: these people are usually very solicited and shake hundreds (if not thousands) of hands over the course of the conference. They’ll be grateful if you get straight to the point and help them remember you more easily.

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3. Know about the conference and activities

Before leaving for the conference, learn more about the speakers and the topics to be covered. Being prepared will help you figure out what you want to learn from each session, and take notes of any questions you might have. If they’re not answered, you can always ask them at the Q&A that usually ends each session. 

When building your conference schedule, where possible, get into some small group classes, which are great opportunities to personally meet knowledgeable experts. Also, opt for at least one offsite lunch or dinner, even if you know nobody else who’s going. These events are an excellent way to get to know new people because those who choose to go are also often on their own and looking to make new connections.

Jacques Pépin at IACP 2011


4. Pack light

Some people want to make sure they won’t miss anything, so they carry many cameras, lenses, a laptop and all the related accessories, but most end up using just a few of the gadgets they brought. Remember, you may be carrying the weight around all day, from sessions to classes to meals to after-hours activities. Try to figure out what’s the bare minimum you need and stick with it. I used to bring my laptop and my digital SLR camera, but now it’s just my iPhone, a notebook, and a small point-and-shoot camera. With all the freebies distributed and the many tasting opportunities, both typical of food conferences, I love to be able to walk around with just a small, lightweight bag.

5. Get some rest!

Conferences are notoriously exhausting, due to their packed schedules and the constant socializing they require, but the intensive learning and networking opportunities they provide make it all worth it. Try to make sure you are well rested before you go, so you’ll have the energy to survive through the full conference. Also, don’t forget there often are very interesting sessions early in the morning so if you want to make these, don’t go to bed too late – or bring a reliable alarm clock!

This article was written by Marie Asselin, a French-Canadian graphic designer and translator who spends all her spare time in the kitchen or lugging her suitcases around the world.

She is the author of food and travel blog Food Nouveau, as well as recipe site, Just Recipes. She lives in Quebec City, QC. Twitter: @foodnouveau

** Are you looking for a comprehensive list of upcoming conferences (world-wide)?  See the upcoming conference listings on Dianne Jacob's site.  Jenn Cuisine also compiles a detailed list of upcoming food conferences.

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11 Comments

David
Reply

I would say that #1 is really important, especially if you’re hesitant about going because you don’t know anyone. (Or are shy, or not entirely comfortable with large groups of people.) It’s easy to make plans, like group dinners, in advance on Twitter and in forums, and people should really take advantage of them. Because once the conference starts, it’s very hectic and with all the people and activities, it’s much more challenging to organize anything with everyone scattered about.

Mardi
Reply

I, too, have found that it’s extremely useful to make at least a few plans in advance of a conference, otherwise the conference will go by and you might miss meeting up with some people you are hoping to meet in real life. I would also say it’s important to make sure you schedule a little “down time” each day of a conference otherwise you will burn yourself out. Even an hour, having a coffee by yourself can help you feel a little more grounded.

Carol Penn-Romine
Reply

While it can be tough facing a conference filled with strangers, I’ve found that I’m more likely to interact and make new friends than I am if I’m hanging out with my buddies. There’s nothing wrong with playing catch-up with those I’ve met in years past, but it’s important to balance that with making the most of the opportunity to meet new people.

And I’m a big believer in business cards. Each night I pull out the cards I’ve collected during the day and make notes on them about the conversations I had with those who gave them to me. This makes post conference follow-up easier, plus I don’t have to wrack my brain trying to recall what I was discussing with whom…

Mardi
Reply

The business card idea is a wonderful one. I always have the best plans to do that but don’t always succeed.

A Canadian Foodie
Reply

I am echoing Liz’s response. I get out and about often enough – just never made it to a conference yet. It is definitely something I want to do – and the part about going alone does hit home with me as it would be hard – so making plans ahead is a great idea.
🙂
Valerie

Debra Wong
Reply

Going to one would be a dream! I’m completely in the dark about the conferences that are going on though so I’m definitely going to check out Dianne’s site. And yes yes yes to packing light! It’s something I constantly struggle with even on a daily basis and I always find myself overanalyzing what I think I’ll need for the day.

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