Post image for Conference Packing List: Carry On is the New Business Casual

Conference Packing List: Carry On is the New Business Casual

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I like conferences. A lot.

Show me an event center packed with enthusiastic like-minded people wearing name tags and I’m there.

So it’s no surprise that I flew to Minneapolis last weekend to attended my third conference this year—NerdCon: Stories 2015—a writer’s conference where speakers like Vlogbrothers Hank and John Green, fantasy author Pat Rothfuss, Podcast phenomenon Welcome to Night Vale co-creator Joseph Fink, and NPR’s Ana Adlerstein stressed the value and craft of modern storytelling. It was fantastic.

packing for conference

However, for novice conference attendees packing for a conference—in a carry on—presents a challenge. How do you look professional in such a small amount of space? It’s easier than you think.

Below I’ve created the ultimate conference packing template—full of must-haves and things you should leave at home. Follow it and you’ll be a networking machine and an industry standout in no time.

Clothes: Dress to Impress

Unless you’re actually going to a ComicCon, it’s best to leave the X-Men t-shirt at home. Business casual—shirt, no tie / blouse, skirt—is best, with one normal outfit for the flights both ways.

  • Men: 1 Button-up shirt for each day of the conference
  • Ladies: One professional blouse for each day
  • Men: 1 Pair of slacks, pants, or nice jeans for every 2 days of the conference
  • Ladies: 1 skirt or slack for every 2 days
  • packing for a conference

  • 1 and only one pair of gold-plated boat shoes
  • 3 Pairs of underwear
  • 2 Pairs of socks
  • 3 Undershirts/tank tops
  • 1 Light sweater or blazer

Leave at Home:

Ties, especially that bolo tie. Even Elon doesn’t wear a tie! Ties are way too formal. They make you look stiff and unapproachable, not professional. It’s the weekend; dress for the room. Exception: Sweet bow ties.

Toiletries: Don’t Smell Like “That Guy”

packing for a conferenceYour hygiene and appearance matter, but at conferences, it’s twice as important to make a great first impression. Steal a few pages from the Dapper Dude packing list to bring your corporate A-game, because nothing shuts down a meet and greet faster than B.O. or spinach in your teeth:

  • Deodorant Stick
  • Toothbrush
  • Tooth paste
  • Mouthwash – a 3 oz bottle easily fits in your day bag, and is essential after that early mid-day coffee
  • Those disposable floss sword things – floss after lunch
  • Solid Cologne – you’ll smell like the woods (in a good way), plus carry on friendly.

Leave At Home:

Shampoo and Soap. They’re both at your hotel, and the little bottles make you feel like a giant. So that’s fun.

Technology: Less is More

packing for a conferenceUnless you’re at a Luddite convention, you’ll bring some everyday tech. The key here is to not go overboard. A laptop is great if you have to actually work during the conference. If not, consider leaving it at home for the weekend and bring a tablet or even just your smartphone and a notepad. Less is always more when you have to carry it around all day.

  • Smartphone (duh)
  • Charger- I prefer a multi-usb charger. It will make you friends in a hurry
  • Portable USB charger- The experts over at Wirecutter gave the Ankor 2nd Gen Astro 6400 their top spot.
  • Car Charger- Again, bring a dual outlet charger. They usually cost about $5 and can mean the difference between your phone dying and getting lost in Minnesota or making it to the convention center on time. Best $5 I ever spent.
  • Laptop + Charger or iPad/tablet- Great for reading between events and organizing your notes into the cloud for later

Leave at Home:

Bulky laptop. It sends the wrong impression, and honestly, you’re not gonna use it. Let those emails pile up until Monday.

Conference-y Stuff: Old-School is Still King

Smartphones have changed the way people network, but conferences by their very nature demand that you go a little old school. Even the best event centers don’t always have available outlets to charge your devices, the wi-fi can get patchy, and often you only have a matter of seconds to get a someone’s contact info or pitch your next big idea—a screen that won’t load is an instant deal breaker. Make sure you pack enough analog gear to get you through:

  • Moleskin Notebook – It’s professional to take notes during key speakers. I’ve personally struck up a handful of conversations with people after a speaker finishes, simply because they noticed me taking notes and wanted to clarify a specific point they thought they’d remember but they didn’t. “I’ll email it to you” is a guaranteed way to get a valuable conversation started.
  • 3+ Pens – Bring extra pens. People always need to borrow them, and you’ll be a hero. Oh what’s that, Ice? Yeah, that loud cracking sound was you being BROKEN.
  • Sharpie – Always. Bring. A. Sharpie. You can write your email on your name tag or lanyard ID and save yourself the awkward spelling conversation. You can write a joke on your name tag and get a few laughs. You can correct your (often) misspelled name. If you bump into your favorite author you can get an autograph. Sharpies are always useful.
  • A Watch – It’s tacky to pull your phone out every five minutes to check the time. Be discrete. Wear a watch.
  • Business Cards – Personally, I think business cards are passé. That’s why I freaked out when I saw designer Mike Burton’s simple solution: customized 3/4″ inspection stamps. When people ask for my info, I just stamp my logo and contact info on the closest beer coaster, one of their business cards, or the back of their hand. It’s memorable.

packing for a conference

Leave at Home: 

That bad attitude. Be positive and friendly and you’ll build relationships that will take your career to the next level.

TL;DR

Conferences are supposed to be fun—even the boring ones can be a blast if you pack the right stuff.

  • Leave room to bring home material from the conference
  • Bring a notebook & extra pens
  • Mouthwash after coffee
  • Ditch the tie: Business Casual is the new hotness

Let me know what you wear to conferences, and if you did attend ComicCon this year, by all means tweet me a pic of what you cosplayed as. Especially if it’s Deadpool.

Image creditStartup Stock Photos.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

SweKiwi October 20, 2015 at 10:46 pm

Love these!

Reply

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