Five conference coverage tips for freelancers

Covering a conference or trade show can be a daunting task for freelancers. Here are five tips for getting the most value when covering events.

1. Preparation

Make sure you prepare before the event and plan what you’re going to do. Sure, the plan might change as circumstances dictate but having a plan means that you won’t be left doing nothing productive. Schedule your time, read conference material and talk to others that have been to similar events to make sure you’re ready for as many different scenarios as possible.

2. Power

If you’re taking a laptop, make sure it’s fully charged. If you can, have a spare battery as access to power outlets can be tricky at some events. For voice recorders, cameras and similar gadgets, try to buy gear that can either use standard AA or AAA batteries or can be charged over USB. This will reduce the number of chargers you need to carry.

3. Bags

We often buy bags based on their aesthetic value but that’s not a great criteria. Aside from comfort, bring a bag that is generously sized so you can easily carry the stacks of papers you’ll inevitably accumulate. Backpacks a re particularly

good as they won’t hurt your back as much as a shoulder satchel. However, they’re less convenient.

4. Business cards

It might sound silly but make sure you have a stock of business cards and make sure you give them out. We’ll talk about designing a great card in a future post but make sure your cards are current with a phone number, email address, your company name, website and a brief statement that describes you (what’s commonly called an “elevator pitch”). Lots of people hand out business cards so make your memorable. Given that cards can be purchased very cheaply it might even be worth producing event—specific cards.

5. Note-taking

My favourite note-taking application is Evernote. The beauty is that I can take notes on my laptop, iPad or phone and all the devices sync over the cloud. It’s easy and free. I know that I can use a paper and pen (I keep those

in my bag just in case of emergency) but as I need to convert my notes into stories, having them online makes that easy. It also means that my notes can be searched.

Also, with Twitter so common, most conferences have a hashtag – a code that starts with a “#” that can be used to identify tweets that relate to a common topic. Find out the hashtag for the event and then collate all of the related tweets. That will give you a stream of conference notes from lots of people and not just your own point of view.

Also, with Twitter so common, most conferences have a hashtag – a code that starts with a “#” that can be used to identify tweets that relate to a common topic. Find out the hashtag for the event and then collate all of the related tweets. That will give you a stream of conference notes from lots of people and not just your own point of view.

So, what are your tips?

The iPad as your only computer

Recently, I attended Tech Ed – Microsoft’s major technical education event for IT professionals. I attended as a member of the media at Microsoft’s expense (just laying out the appropriate disclaimers before I start). I was away for four days on the conference, having left home on a Tuesday and returning on Friday afternoon. For the first time, I travelled with the iPad as my only computing device – no notebook, no cheating by using one of the many machines that are around for attendees – just the iPad.

The Kit

In order to use the iPad as a primary computer for the best part of a week, I needed a few accessories. I was going to take a stand but decided to pack light and took a PADACs Executive Leather Case. This offers great protection in my satchel (a Crumpler “The Quarfie”) and doubles up as a stand. That props it up so I can either use the Apple Bluetooth Keyboard I brought or the on-screen keyboard comfortably.

Fortunately, Microsoft provided WiFi access to conference delegates so Internet connectivity was easy – a big consideration as I only have a WiFi iPad and not a 3G model. In the hotel however, it was a little trickier as in-room access is only via an Ethernet cable. For that, I used the Huawei E5830 I picked up on eBay so that I have ready access to Internet.

Obviously, the iPad’s battery was never going to make it through four days so I have the charger with me. I used the same charger for my iPhone so that made my travel load even lighter – one brick to charge them all!

Reality Check

So, can the iPad make it as a primary computing device? In a nutshell – yes but not forever.

Data entry in the conference sessions and during interviews was easy. The iPad’s instant on capability meant that I was up and running way before most of the other folks using netbooks or sub-notebooks.

Plenty of people have already written about the iPad’s hardware so I’m going to mention one app that I’m road testing (there a full review in Australian Macworld) is Office 2 HD. This is yet another productivity suite for the iPad. At this stage it only support word processing and spreadsheets and I’ve only worked with the word processor as that’s a key application for me.

The big attraction of Office2 HD is that it plays nicely with DropBox. That means I can open and save documents to my DropBox account so I don’t have to worry about backing my work up while traveling.

For the writers out there, Office2 HD includes all the usual formatting options like bold, underline, italics, bullets, numbering and text alignment. It also includes a word count – a must for journalists.

The biggest issue with the iPad as a notebook or netbook replacement is the lack of USB connectivity for transferring content to and from a memory stick. For a journalist, this is critical as many press kits are distributed this way.

Camera Shy

I know this has been addressed by just about every iPad critic on the planet – and some of the fans. But the lack of a front-facing camera is a real problem. It’s almost a certainty that iPad 2 will have a camera now that FaceTime is part of the Apple landscape. But for now, not having a camera is a show-stopper for me. Being able to video-conference home and colleagues when traveling is important – particularly on longer trips.

One More Thing

It’s funny how experience is the only way to really find a serious deficiency with a device. I’ve started a contract job as the IT manager of a school. Like most other businesses, my employer uses Microsoft Exchange – a platform I’m warming to after 15 years or so of working with Lotus Notes.

I use GMail as my main email service and I access that via Google’s support for the ActiveSync/Exchange protocols (I know it’s more complex than that but you know what I mean). On my iPad I can access several email accounts so I can keep in touch with all my clients easily.

So, there you have it. One man’s experience of using the iPad as his one and only computer. Lots of wins and some losses but the iPad is good enough – for a limited time.

Do you have an iPad? What apps are essential for you? Let me know through the comments.