Heading to Orlando for The Special Event? Get ready for four jam-packed days of education, networking, and business development! But if it’s your first time attending Catersource + The Special Event, you might feel a bit of trepidation heading into one of the largest annual conferences in the industry.
Fortunately, you’ll be in good company alongside conference veterans and newbies alike. We asked seasoned attendees for their best advice for first-timers, and here’s what they suggest for making your conference experience a meaningful one.
Do some pre-work beforehand
A great way to shake off some pre-conference jitters is to prepare yourself for what’s to come! A bit of research can help you enter with a solid game plan, and if networking is on your to-do list, consider connecting with people beforehand.
“Reach out to your friendors or post on your networking boards and plan to meet up during the speakers and after!” encourages Nora Sheils of Rock Paper Coin and Bridal Bliss. “Listening to speakers is educational and great, but networking at conferences is gold. Get to know people, and have a little fun along the way!”
And if you have your eye on the tradeshow, SB Value’s Trip Wheeler suggests mapping out your must-see booths. “If you’re really interested in what they have to offer and you’d like to work with them, I would even take it a step further by contacting them in advance to set a specific time to meet,” he notes.
To help with your pre-conference planning, look to the Catersource + The Special Event website for schedules, maps, and other valuable resources.
Take care of yourself
Conference days can go by in a blur—before you know it, the afternoon sessions are wrapping up and you’re as exhausted as you are hungry. Don’t let a busy schedule get in the way of your personal needs, though. Otherwise, you might miss out on exciting opportunities simply because you’re not feeling great.
“Having a plan for food is important because it can really kill more time than expected,” shares Amber Anderson of Refine for Wedding Planners. “Fortunately, this conference puts out snacks! But for lunch, plan ahead or use a service like Uber Eats to be more precise with your timing.”
Another essential item to bring: “Comfortable shoes are a must for conferences,” Sheils adds. “Many times, speakers are spaced out and there is quite a bit of walking. Something to also take into account if you plan to walk from your hotel.”
A few other things to pack: a refillable water bottle, a warm sweater, and your phone charger! You’ll get the most out of the experience when you’re well-rested, hydrated, and comfortable, so prioritize self-care first.
Showing up to a session and taking notes is a great way to learn, but you’ll miss out on the real value if you stay to yourself. After all, in-person conferences are all about making new connections to further your business and expand your network!
“If you are attending alone, don’t be shy,” stresses Chandai Raghunauth of Chandai Events. “Ask questions. Speakers are there to answer questions. Go to networking events in the evening—at least one, and enjoy it.”
From scheduled events—like the opening party and awards ceremony—to offsite meetups with new and old friends, plan to spend as much time with others as possible.
And if you’re unsure how to start meeting people, Anderson urges conference newbies to “get connected digitally. Tag people in photos you take and dig around in the conference hashtags and comment on their photos!”
There will be plenty of time to unwind and decompress when you head home, but while onsite, try to maximize your limited time to learn and connect.
Have a great time
Taking time away from the office is difficult, and it’s possible your conference trip is replacing a vacation opportunity. But who said you couldn’t add a bit of pleasure to a business trip?
“Come a day early or stay a day late and head over to area attractions,” Anderson recommends. “Invite other people in your online communities to join you!”
So whether you’re heading straight to Walt Disney World® Resort* or a relaxing beach day is in order, schedule some downtime to enjoy all that Orlando has to offer—and maybe even turn it into a fun bonding activity with your team or colleagues.
With a couple weeks to go, use this time to get your ducks in order and prepare for TSE. A well-thought-out game plan and packing list will help you show up confidently, so you can put your best foot forward from the moment you arrive.
*Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and sources. The writer and sources are not affiliated with the Walt Disney Company, and this article is not authorized or endorsed by the Walt Disney company or any of its affiliates. All Disney-related trademarks are property of Disney Enterprises, Inc.
Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast.
You can see Meghan in-person at Catersource + The Special Event, taking place March 27–30 in Orlando, FL during the following sessions:
- Social Proof: Understanding it, Earning it + Leveraging it in the Event Industr
Wednesday, March 29 at 2:30 p.m.
- What Veteran Marketers Want You Know, But Are Too Polite to Say
Tuesday, March 28 at 1:15 p.m.
For more information, click here.