25 Ways to Prepare for Catalyst and Other Leadership Conferences

Leadership Conference Speaker

As the Catalyst East leadership conference approaches, I’m excited to finalize my preparations. The theme of the conference is “Be Present“. That is what I want – to give my “undivided attention”. Whether for Catalyst East or another conference, if you want to give your undivided attention, here are 25 tips to help you prepare:


1. Relevant Books: I prefer audio books. Whatever your format, get the books from authors you plan to hear speak. This enables you to make the most of their presentations.

2. Visit Speaker Websites: Go to the blogs of speakers you are interested in. If you have to choose between a couple, this will help you decide. Otherwise, this will help you become familiar with the speaker’s topics, background and interests. Catalyst speakers can be found here.


3. Directions: Got a GPS? Great. Save all the addresses you’ll need in advance. No GPS? Print out maps to and from key points.

4. Tickets & Reservations: To the event, the flight, car rental, hotel and any other arrangements. Print them out and store them all in one place you will not forget. I pack a single portfolio on the outermost pocket of my backpack for quick and easy access.

5. Select Sessions: List out ahead of time what sessions you want to attend. Many conferences provide Tracks (such as these Labs Tracks at Catalyst) to simplify this for you.

2011 Atlanta Bloggers Meetup6. Coordinate Meetings: Who do you want to meet while at the event? Conferences are great for networking, but only if you invest a little effort. For example, at Catalyst, I plan to attend the Atlanta Bloggers’ conference – will you be there?

7. Set Away Messages: Don’t be afraid to be firm. Mine say, “Please contact me only in the case of an emergency. Otherwise, if you need assistance with….” I then list key contacts in different areas and their numbers. Do this for both email and voice mail.

8. Reconfirm Reservations: I do this 48 hours ahead of time. That way, if a crisis occurs, you can resolve it two days before, rather than being frantically resolving issues the night before you leave.

9. Set Expectations With Family: Let your spouse and loved ones know your schedule. Leave a copy with them. If you have family in the same town as the conference, but won’t have time to visit, tell them before you go. Nothing’s worse than if they discover you’re there on social media and think you’re snubbing them!

10. Budget Down Time: Conferences can be crazy-busy times. Make sure you plan some down time to absorb all you take in. This may be an early morning exercise routine or quiet time in your hotel room.

11. Coordinate Sightseeing: I rarely have time to see sites while traveling for a conference. If this is part of your plan though, coordinate all tickets, travel and so on before you depart.

12. Arrive Early: I like to get to the airport especially early. Long lines at security may mean a sweaty run through the terminal. Some conferences also have long registration lines. Getting their early assures you a good seat.


13. Pack Early: When I pack the night before a conference, I’m often packing at 2 AM. This leaves me tired and drained for the first day. Instead, pack at least 24 hours before you leave.

14. Leave Work Behind: This is a tough one for me. However, to Be Present, I plan to leave the work laptop and Blackberry, instead only taking my personal tablet and iPhone.

15. Bring Business Cards: Already got business cards? Great. Make sure they’re packed. If you don’t though, pull one together. It doesn’t have to be perfect on short notice, but have something to hand out that contains your basic contact information.

16. Bring a Day Pack: Many conferences give you a bag to carry to sessions. In case they don’t, prepare your own. This usually doubles as my airline carry-on and typically includes:

a. Tablet or netbook
b. Digital recorder
c. Note pad
d. Simple snack
e. Two pens

17. Pack a Professional Outfit: Even if you expect the conference to be completely casual, I like to pack at least one professional outfit. This may add extra luggage, but you never know what opportunity may arise at the event.

Digital Preparations

18. Twitter Shortcuts: Get your hashtags, lists and key people lined up ahead of time. When you’re there, you don’t want to waste time and attention looking up the speaker’s twitter name or what hashtag to apply. For Catalyst, I’ve created a list of all speakers and administrative team members here. I also make sure I am following relevant people for quick reference in Hootsuite. The Catalyst East hastag should be #cat11. (Note: This post originally listed the incorrect hashtag of #cateast).

19. Encourage Attendees: If you’re part of a group attending, encourage them ahead of the event. Personal notes, email and tweets are all good ideas. Messages like, “I look forward to attending with you” go a long way.

20. Encourage Coordinators: Send a personal note, email or tweet to the organizers. These folks likely feel the pressure (stress) of the approaching event and could use some motivation. Simple messages like, “Thinking of you and want you to know your work on this event is appreciated” can really help energize the team. Catalyst organizers on Twitter include:


21. Thank Sponsors: Many conferences would not be possible without sponsors. Why not thank them in advance? Catalyst Sponsors can be found here.

22. List Learning Objectives: When you leave the event, what do you want to have learned? Consider creating a top 10 list to keep you focused throughout the days.

23. Setup Your Notes: I’m a big note taker. Therefore, it helps to have the documents prepped ahead of time. For example, consider setting up a folder for the conference. In it, place a single a Word Document for each session with the name of the speaker, link to their website, etc… You can do the same in Evernote if you prefer.

24. Device Prep: Are you setup for sharing photos / videos (instagram, G+ connection, Facebook, etc…)? Do you have much memory free on your smart phone? Batteries charged? Do you have spares?

Most Important

25. Be Present: Finally, once you are there, be there and there only. Focus. Be Present.



Picture of Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder and principal of Modern Servant Leader and Radiant Forest, LLC. He has studied and promoted servant leadership awareness and adoption for over 20 years. He is the author of 2 leadership books and has 2 decades of corporate management and leadership experience. His corporate experience spans CIO, VP, Director, and many management roles at Fortune 500, INC 500, and Nonprofits. Ben’s education includes a B.S. in Management Science & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Lehigh University. Ben's Full Profile Here: About Ben Lichtenwalner

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