Large conference survival guide #ghc12

Nearly 3,500 will attend Grace Hopper 2012. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed — it’s handily the largest number of technical women I ever see in one place. For some, it might be the largest conference they attend all year. Here’s how to not get lost in the shuffle.

1. Study the schedule beforehand, or take some time (and a highlighter) to your paper copy.

There’s a lot of content at GHC, so priorities your ‘musts’, ‘mights’, and ‘maybes’. You’ll end up skipping a few sessions in favor of talking to people, most likely. That’s perfectly okay. GHC has great content, but one of the greatest gifts is the concentration of technical women in one place. A few women I’ve met at GHC have turned into very good friends, and it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t taken advantage of casual networking.

2. You might miss some things. That’s okay. But don’t miss the morning.

Biased, as I’m a morning person. But at some conferences, I notice a tendency to skip a morning session to catch up on sleep from late night conversations. Despite the temptation, don’t give in! Some of the best takeaways lie in the morning keynotes and meeting up with people to attend sessions for the day. Rise and shine!

3. Bring cards.

GHC attendees are happy to share their card with you — and will likely ask if you have one in return. Even if you’re a student, or otherwise don’t have cards, definitely make sure to order your cards to have for GHC. My favorite printer is moo.com hands down. But in a pinch (or if you have a luggage mishap), don’t forget about FedEx Office — print on some good card stock, and you’re good to go.

4. Never eat alone.

Keith Ferrazzi is especially right about this for large conferences. Particularly with organized activities such as Lunchtime Table Topics, there’s no reason not to use your lunch hour to meet new people. I also recommend meeting people at sessions you particularly enjoyed, meeting up with people via Twitter, or meeting up with people on listservs/open source projects you’re involved in.

5. Take it easy on Sunday.

Some of you are coming from out of town to Baltimore, and it could be that your Sunday is filled with flights, or plans to explore Baltimore. What works for me is planning to take it easy the day after a large, long conference (and GHC is, at 4 days and 3,400 people, both!). If it’s warm, hang out by the hotel pool. Visit a museum and lunch with some new friends. But knowing that you’re going to relax a bit after 4 days of learning and networking can be that extra boost you need to head out to an event rather than hibernating in the hotel room.

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