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Convention Tips: Don’t Just Survive, Thrive at IRA San Antonio

 | Apr 08, 2013

by Lara Deloza

If you’ve seen one conference “survival guide,” you’ve seen them all. Standard chestnuts include
• dress in layers
• wear comfortable shoes
• pack extra business cards

But whether you’re contemplating attending your first IRA Annual Convention, or are a multi-year vet who hasn’t missed a meeting in the last two decades, the simple fact remains: you don’t go to these things to “survive.” You go to thrive. To that end, here are some tips to help you make your trip to San Antonio a flourishing success!

Get Your Game Plan Going

international reading association convention attendeesIt’s never too early to start crafting an Annual Convention strategy. There are the obvious items on that to-do list, such as registering for the event, securing a hotel room, and making other travel arrangements. But that only gets you to San Antonio. What are you going to do once you arrive? No, we’re not talking about a tour of the Alamo—though to be fair, the popular (and free!) attraction is a mere seven-minute walk from the Convention Center. We’re talking about your personal conference schedule. Which panels and presentations do you consider can’t-miss? Are there any workshops or events you simply have to attend? Sure, you’ll get a full program on-site, but smart conference-goers know to skip the paper and do it digitally. Start by trying out IRA’s interactive online itinerary planner by going to /iplanner and creating a new username and password. (See the iPlanner how-to article for more info.) Then, search for sessions by speaker, date, category, and keyword. As you plan, try to pick two or even three options per time slot. That way, if your first choice gets too crowded, you’re not scrambling to find a backup. You’ll also want to be prepared for the possibility of last minute room changes, especially if you’re someone who maps his or her route based on proximity. Once you’ve created your itinerary, send it to yourself via e-mail. It’s also a good idea to print a PDF copy to take with you, since reviewing the hard copy doesn’t require a Wi-Fi connection. If you’re able to arrive before the convention begins, it’s always a good idea to give that itinerary a test run. Rooms that look close together on a never-drawn-to-scale map may, in reality, be a lengthy jog apart. Gathering this “intel” before the Opening General Session allows you to adjust your plans accordingly—and helps alleviate any last-minute stress.

A Little Meal Planning Goes a Long Way, Too

Breakfast might be the most important meal of the day, but when it comes to attending a large conference, its lunch you have to look out for. Aim to eat at off-peak hours: before 11 or after 2. Also, stock your suitcase with a solid array of shelf-stable items like nuts, granola bars, and beef jerky so you can snack before you go to the convention center. If packing space is at a premium, head to one of the drugstores or minimarts within a half-mile walk of the Convention Center to forage for food once you get into town. There, you can stock up on bottled water and plenty of convenient grab-and-go fare. And, since nearly all of the convention hotels offer in-room refrigerators (some by request only—call ahead to confirm which category your hotel falls into), you may also opt for items that need to be kept cold, such as Greek yogurt and low fat string cheese. Does all of this seem like a little too much work? Consider purchasing tickets to an author luncheon. Not only will you get to listen to amazing speakers, you’ll also get a hot, tasty meal. Delivered to you. At a table. With linens.

Portable Power for the Win!

It’s 2013, so odds are you’ll be bringing some sort of electric device to the conference. You definitely want to bring your chargers with you, but don’t feel like you need to leave them in your hotel room. Consider stashing a power strip in your backpack. That way, if you find an occupied plug, you can offer to share. Then, you’re not only charging your own devices, but strangers will consider you a genius and a hero. Another option is to purchase an emergency charger. These external sources run on batteries and plug into your device, typically offering 10 to 20 extra hours of usage. So if you need to re-juice mid-afternoon, you can do it without having to make a trip back to your hotel.

Don’t Drop It, Ship It

When it comes to large convention centers, wheeled carts come in handy. But they are absolutely, 100-percent not allowed into the Exhibit Hall. Ditto for strollers, luggage, and duffel bags—pretty much anything with wheels needs to be parked far from the Exhibit Hall floor. Then how, pray tell, are you supposed to lug around twenty extra pounds of books, merch, and swag, let alone squish it all into an airline approved carry-on? If you don’t have arms of steel (and, let’s face it, how many of us do?), you’ll want to visit the on-site UPS center (www.theupsstorelocal.com/4180/). The cost for Ground shipping depends on the weight and size of the package, as well as the distance of the destination. But, for some, the added cost is worth the convenience.

You may want to take advantage of the Order Express option at the IRA Bookstore as well. It allows you to purchase any of IRA’s regularly priced books and have them shipped to your school or home for free. Bonus: with Order Express, you won’t have to spring for sales tax, either!

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

In a large, unfamiliar place, it’s easy to get lost. Make sure you scout out the “Ask Me” guides throughout the Convention Center. You’ll be able to identify them by their bright yellow shirts and caps. The “Ask Me” guides can help you find everything from that UPS Center to the nearest restroom. And if for some reason they don’t have the answer to your question, they’ll direct you to someone who will. As for the standard advice mentioned earlier, the truth is you probably should dress in layers, as the average late-April temps in San Antonio run in the low-80s, and conference centers rarely skimp on the A/C. Comfy shoes? They’ll definitely come in handy, especially when you’re sprinting from session to session. Ditto for the extra business cards. How else are you going to keep in touch with all of those amazing colleagues you’ll undoubtedly meet?

The IRA 58th Annual Convention runs from April 19 to 22, 2013, in San Antonio, Texas. Visit www.iraconvention.org and the iPlanner Program Grid and Event Search for details. 

Lara Deloza is the senior writer at the International Reading Association.

This article was originally published in the February/March 2013 issue of Reading Today.

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