Top Mistakes I Made at my First Conference

Last month I had the opportunity to attend ALA Midwinter, my first multi-day conference. I was stoked, but totally unprepared. Here are some of the things I did wrong and some tips for you first-timers to avoid the same blunders.

1. I didn’t get there early on my first day.

Okay, conference centers are huge. ALA Midwinter was held at McCormick Place which is, in fact, the largest conference center in the U.S. You don’t want to arrive there only to spend a frenzied hour trying to find the registration desk, coat check, and your first meeting room, effectively missing that awesome panel about technology trends. So get there early, have some coffee, and get a feel for the layout. You’ll be thankful for it later on.

2. I didn’t have a backup plan.

It goes without saying that planning your schedule in advance is necessary. However, on a few occasions I ended up not digging some of the sessions I had chosen. It’s great to have an alternative in case your first choice doesn’t pan out. Be aware that it is 100% okay to walk out of a session early – or to walk in to a session late. Sometimes the descriptions for a meeting don’t quite match your expectations and you feel the need to slip out the back door. Do it, but be discreet so you don’t distract everyone else.

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons

Exhibit floor at ALA Midwinter (photo from Flickr Creative Commons)

3. I didn’t pack a lunch.

Food prices at conference centers are a huge ripoff. I paid $18 for a bland sandwich and chips on my first day and it was majorly not cool. We grad students don’t have that kind of money! Furthermore, depending on your schedule you may not actually have time to sit and eat a meal. So pack a lunch or some snacks you can munch on throughout the day, as Annie suggested in her post about eating right at conferences. If you’re feeling brave, venture outside the conference center and find some grub, especially if you’re from out of town and want to get a feel for the local food scene. Just don’t get lost!

4. I didn’t go to after hours social events.

It was a long day. My feet hurt from walking around and my brain was about to burst from all this new library stuff I was learning. Plus, there was a blizzard on the way.

…Guys, don’t be an excuse-making lame-o like me and just go! ALA sponsored an event nearby the conference and there were countless other social gatherings hosted by librarians or library school students all over the city (easy to find via Facebook). Events such as these are some of the best places to network, not to mention a great way to decompress and enjoy a nice frosty beverage.

For more tips on hacking your conference, check out Sam’s post on attending conferences.


Were you at ALA Midwinter? What did you think? What advice do you have for first-time conference-goers?

8 replies

  1. These tips get brought out before every conference–because they are SO TRUE. And yet SO HARD to learn without personal experience not following them 🙂
    I’m glad that you had a (mostly) good experience at Midwinter! Next time you’ll make different mistakes. (I just made the same mistake two conferences in a row: I took only one pair of shoes. They’re super comfortable, but hello SNOW. Make sure to have a back-up pair of shoes in case of weather!)


  2. This is awesome! …not that you made mistakes… the advice is so great! I’m attending my first conference in April and I’m definitely going to remember these tips. Thanks for being our guinea pig 🙂


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