Surviving the Summit: Caring for Yourself

by Kevin Cuddihy on 6 May 2014

We bring you the fifth of six planned posts from our newest guest blogger, Geoff Hart. Geoff is a veteran of many conferences, including a number of STC Summits. We’ll be publishing a weekly post from him on Surviving the Summit: tips on how to get the most out of the Summit, or any conference you attend.

If you haven’t attended a big conference before, you’re probably thinking it’s easy peasy: after all, you’ll be sitting around all day letting other people do all the hard work. Veteran conference-goers know better. Spending several days learning a bunch of new things and interacting with a bunch of strangers who might just become new friends takes a surprising amount of effort.

Conferences are exhausting, so pay attention to your body’s signals and learn when to quit. You can’t take in everything that’s interesting at a conference, and you shouldn’t try. You only absorb so much information at a time, and by the end of the conference your brain will be like any other overused muscle: tired, aching, and unable to do more work. You can delay that moment of mental collapse by making time to do more than just take notes: Relax in the bar with a freshly drawn pint while chatting with someone, or gather a group and go out to dinner. Share what you’ve learned, tell them about particularly great speakers, and get to know them as people. Or just skip a session here and there and let your mind and body wander.

Exercise and eat your veggies. The constant mental stimulation of a good conference consumes enormous amounts of energy, but it’s all mental energy. Your body needs attention too. Donuts and the chocolates handed out by vendors provide fuel, but it burns too quickly and leaves no reserves in your tank. Coffee will keep you going, but by the end of the conference, you’ll find it providing less of a pick-me-up than it did the first day. Particularly at conferences that provide buffet meals with a cornucopia of high-calorie delights, budget some stomach space for the healthy proteins and vegetables that will sustain you through a long day. Then get outside and walk to clear out the fog from too many people breathing the same recirculated air and replace it with fresh air. If you can, make time to visit the hotel’s exercise room; if not, organize an expedition to that great restaurant the concierge recommended, a brisk 15-minute walk from the hotel.

Next week: What to do when you return home.

Geoff Hart is the grizzled veteran of dozens of conferences, and has emerged exhausted (but mostly wiser) from this experience. Visit him online at http://www.geoff-hart.com.

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