What to Know Before You Go

What to Know Before You Go

By Sara Dethloff

Have you ever received one of those “What to Know Before You Go” e-mails that many associations send to conference attendees? It has a lot of great information to help first-time attendees have a great experience, but what about for staff working at their first conference? As a new employee in the association field who recently worked at my first conference, I discovered 7 tips that can make the experience easier for other first-time conference staff.

Buy good walking shoes.

Luckily, my coworkers had clued me in to importance of supportive footwear before I attended my first conference. I was scheduled to work at two conferences within a 3-week time span and knew I would be walking around a lot, but I didn’t realize how much until my Fitbit showed I was averaging 18,000 steps a day! A few of my conference coworkers had sore feet all week, but I was all set with my snazzy—and comfortable—new walking shoes.

Bring your own reusable water bottle and Chapstick.

Being that you are constantly running around at conference and many convention centers tend to have very dry air, it’s important to carry a water bottle to stay hydrated and alert. There might not be a water fountain nearby or bottled water available, so always having both your water and Chapstick (to protect against that dry air!) nearby can make life just a little easier.

Always carry something to take notes with.

You cannot imagine how many people you talk to within a day at a conference. You will be asked simple little questions by attendees, staff, and speakers that suddenly start piling up, and it’s easy to forget who asked you what or even what their question was. So, make it easier to remember all those details by writing them down! You might also have a great conversation with someone and want to connect with them after the conference or send them a thank-you note, but what if you can’t remember the name of the person you talked with when you get back home?

Read the conset and highlight your duties onsite.

The conset, which is what we call the complete guide of all the conference details and scheduling that staff receive before heading onsite, was my lifeline during both of my conferences. It helped me to know where my fellow staff members were at all times and where I was supposed to be. My biggest tip with this would be to highlight within your own conset the sections, places, and times where you are needed for a specific task. It creates a personal calendar for you to easily glance at and know exactly where you need to be. Also, look at it every morning while you are getting ready, it really helps you have an idea of what your day will look like!

Always be a helping hand!

If you are not doing anything at the moment and see that someone needs help or something needs to be done, Jump in and do it! Do not wait around to be asked—it will make a difference in the long run.

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Despite the best preparation, something will always not go as planned onsite. When that happens, just keep calm and trust in your ability to handle the situation. And remember, your staff team is there to help with snafus, too!


This might seem obvious, but always smile when you’re onsite. The days may be long and tiring, but a smiling face lets attendees they are valued. A quick little smile or a friendly “Good Morning” or “Hello” can make all the difference in the world to an attendee. Working at your first conference can seem overwhelming, but if you prepare ahead of time and always put your best foot forward, you are going to succeed and even have some fun!

Sara Dethloff is an account administrator for the Awards and Personalization Association, the Council of Engineering and Scientific Society Executives, and the Metal and Construction Association.