Journalists attend conferences as professional development, as a way to stay abreast of trends in a certain industry, or to write about them.
If you fall into the latter camp, then here are some tips and strategies for planning and executing on your conference coverage.
Make a game plan
Review the conference schedule before you go. If you’re attending with people from the same publication, map out who’s going to which sessions to avoid duplication. You can swap notes with each other later. If you’re attending on your own, review the schedule and decide in advance which sessions you plan to attend. Perhaps there’s a high-profile speaker that your editor would like you to cover or there’s a session that sounds like it might inspire some new article ideas.
If the conference sessions are spread out (like at SXSW in Austin), then you may want to consider geographic proximity. The last thing you want is to sprint across the city only to find that the session you planned to ahead is already full or has been cancelled at the last minute. If you choose back-to-back sessions in the same building, it’s likely that you’ll be able to get a good seat and avoid a last-minute scramble.
Pack the essentials
Make sure charge your electronics and bring a portable phone charger, too. Even if you’re taking notes on a laptop, you may still want to use your phone or a camera to take photos of slides (since there are never enough handouts) or speakers. Plus, a colleague may need to borrow the portable charger to juice up their phone. Also bring a sweater (conference rooms can be chilly), pen and paper, snacks (conference food can be hit or miss), and business cards. Lastly, find out if there’s a press room available where you can charge your device or get some quiet space away from the crowds to file a story.
If you’re planning to live-tweet the conference, look up the official conference hashtag and the handles of speakers on each panel. You can have that information preloaded in a Word document and copy and paste into Twitter as needed so you don’t have to search for it during the session. As you’re typing notes, you may be inspired to tweet a few gems or save them for when you write up your coverage. You might also want to set up a search in Tweetdeck for the conference hashtag so that you can follow updates and see what others are tweeting. Some conferences also use individual hashtags for each session, too.
Think beyond recaps
Association magazines or other publications may want recaps of specific sessions for those who couldn’t attend. But that’s not the only way to cover a conference. While you’re attending keynotes or panels, keep your eyes and ears open for industry trends that might be ripe for feature stories, speakers who make good sources for future coverage, or companies who might be worth a profile if they’re doing interesting things. These are just a few of the ways that you can get more mileage out of your time at a conference.