How To Attend A Voiceover Conference
One of the many jobs I've had over the years was an audio engineer for an A/V company. We'd set up the audiovisual equipment for a variety of different businesses that were holding meetings or conferences in hotels. The days were long and the work can be exhausting. As a result, I’ve learned through trial and error a variety of ways to get the most out of a conference experience without collapsing into a coma at the end of it. And with VOAtlanta coming up, there's no better time to share a bunch of tips I've culled from years of working and attending hotel conferences that may prove helpful to you:
Caffeine is your friend. - Not really, but it's a good short-term crutch. When the afternoon blahs start to kick in, it's best to get something to push through it. You don't want something that's going to make you bounce off the walls, just a little pick-me-up to get through the afternoon. Nodding off in the middle of a conference you paid good money to attend is not a good return on investment. Plus you look like an amateur.
Drink plenty of water - Because if you're following the previous tip, caffeine is a diuretic, which means you'll get dehydrated in no time.
And honestly: nobody drinks enough water. The trick I've always used camping has helped me out a lot: piss clear. If you're drinking enough water, you'll know it when your body starts getting rid of it. Bring plenty of business cards - You want to be able to give your card to people you really want to do business with when you get back home. Having a sharp, memorable card to hand to someone is a quick way to do this. And always bring more than you think you're going to need. Running out of cards sucks.
Here's a tip I've used before: write a little something about the person who handed you their card on the back of their card. Just a note or two that you can use to remind yourself why this person was someone you wanted to talk to after the conference. Also, for the extra touch of class, position your cards for quick deployment - place them in your pocket in such a way that you can reach in, grab a card and present it to your new contact right side up and facing them without having to break eye contact to do it. Most people wont pick up on this, but it will make you look that much more put-together.
Wear comfortable shoes - I can't stress this one enough! You’re going to be walking from one end of a conference hall to the other and back again several times over the course of a week or weekend. Anything you can do to take care of your feet will help you. Think good, comfortable shoes. Forget about style and go for comfort. Take care of your feet and they will take care of you. New socks are a good idea too.
Take your vitamins - your body will thank you for this. Or at least not seek revenge as much. Speaking of health... Be sure you protect yourself from germs. Wash your hands a lot. Use hand sanitizer. If you haven't gone through a travel-size bottle of sanitizer by the end of a weekend conference, you're doing something wrong.
And if you're sick, please dont attend.
Wait, let me say that again:
IF YOU ARE SICK, DON'T ATTEND THE CONFERENCE. About a week after last year's conference, a wave of people came down with "The Ick" - a fun little cold that seemed to last for about three weeks or more. There was someone in attendance that was feeling a little under the weather at the time and ended up unwittingly sharing his malaise with the masses. I have a great deal of respect for the guy, but I now quietly refer to him as "patient zero."
Don't be patient zero.
Customize your ID badge
When you sign up, you’re usually given an ID badge to hang around your neck. The one that was given to me for VO Atlanta in 2015 is pictured at right and is typical of the kind you find at most conferences. The section where your name goes is usually a 4 x 3” piece of paper with your name printed on it and inserted into the plastic sleeve. Knowing this, why not spend 5 minutes in your favorite graphic program (even MS Paint will work) and make your own insert with your logo printed on it? It’s not much, but it's one more way to make your name stand out and be remembered. Also this particular style of badge had a small window on the back of it, perfect for holding your extra business cards (that aren't ready for quick deployment in your shirt pocket) and a zippered pouch that's perfect for storing the business cards you receive.
Carry a backpack - something small that can hold all the literature and swag you’re going to get, plus miscellaneous supplies to make your conference a little easier to handle.
Things to pack in the backpack:
Extra business cards
Phone charging cords and battery banks
A sweater or light jacket (those breakout rooms can get chilly)
Hand sanitizer - see above.
Avoid the Junk Food - Or at least try. Sugar may give you a quick rush, but the crash can be brutal. One trick that I used to use for quick energy is to grab a few honey sticks from the coffee/ tea cart. Snip off the end, suck down the honey and you've got a quick pick-me-up that won't spike your blood sugar and isn't as fattening as a Snickers.
Go easy on the sauce - It's nice to have a few "beers with peers" after a long day, but drinking to excess just labels you as "that guy" and people start avoiding you. Plus, no one wants to go into a session the next morning with a head-splitting hangover. Be nice to the hotel and a/v staff - These are the people that have to put up with your weird little industry. And every other weird little industry that takes over the hotel. They were there long before you got there and will be there long after you leave. They work their asses off to make it look like everything magically appears and works without any help, and most of em' work for shit pay. Show em some love. Shake their hand. Even just a simple, "Thank you for doing this" will go a long way to the guy that's been schlepping pipe and drape everywhere all weekend.
Take notes - My two greatest tools at a conference is my phone and my notebook. If the conference allows it, use your phone to record what the speaker is saying while you're taking notes. This way when you get home (or when you're on the plane) you can listen to the recordings and write down more notes you missed the first time. Some people bring their laptops for this purpose, but that always seemed more distracting. I know I'm personally not a fan of hearing someone tippity-tapping along with everything the speaker is saying. Some conferences frown on recording devices, but as long as you're not sharing the information with someone, you should be allowed to retain the information that was given to you. Your mileage may vary on this one. Tread lightly.
Pace yourself - Remember, these things are a marathon, not a sprint. If you rush around too much in the beginning of the day, you’re going to be exhausted by dinner time. Getting plenty of rest is going to be a challenge - what with post day "networking" going on in the bars afterwards, it can make a long day even longer. Get sleep when you can, so you aren't the walking dead on the last day. This tip comes from VOA alum Beth Windsor Stewart: set aside a short amount of time each day to decompress in your room or someplace quiet. A conference can cause sensory overload - so much to see, say, do and hear. Taking a moment to pause, deep breathe and refocus your energy can really help in the long run.
But at the same time, dont be a wallflower. You spent a lot of money to attend the conference. Don't waste the opportunity to talk with your peers and converse with the shining stars of the industry. You want to get as much out of the conference as you possibly can. This is where friendships and business relationships are made. Maybe you meet someone who can give you exactly what you need to launch your career to the next level. Or maybe you meet someone whom you can help yourself. Don't just retreat back to the hotel room with a pint of Ben and Jerry's. Savor the serendipity! Leave yourself open to the possibility for something great to happen. To do that you have to be there. So get out there and network. Fortune favors the bold.
Conferences are a great way to learn a lot of information in a short amount of time. Make the most of that time by trying these tips and suggestions. Take lots of notes, make lots of new friends and when you get back home, hit the ground running and apply those things you've learned to improve your business.
And if you come up with any more tips for how to survive VOA, let me know and I'll ad them to this post. Have fun!
About Rob Marley -
A Los Angeles native, Rob is an accomplished voice talent, coach, producer and writer, now living in the Hill Country of Austin Texas.