Public Relations Society of America International Conference kicks off this weekend in Orlando, welcoming communications professionals from multiple industries and geographies. With top-tier keynotes, dozens of professional development sessions, a hall crammed with vendors, an extensive hotel complex, and a city designed for visitors, it can take some time to get acclimated, especially for the new attendee.
Since we've been lacing up our PRSA conference boots for the past decade, it's only fair to share a few secrets from our survival guide:
1. Download the PRSA Mobile App. Use your iPhone, Android, Blackberry or Windows Phone to view the extensive conference program, glance at venue maps, look up local dining and entertainment options, and even see contact details for other conference attendees. Get it here.
2. Tap into Conference Social Media Tools. Even if you've seen social media incorporated at other conferences, be prepared to be blown away by its use in Orlando. Follow the #PRSAICON hashtag on Twitter to read realtime updates from other attendees. Follow PRSA speakers at @McDougallTC/prsa-2011-conf-speakers and Leadership Assembly delegates at @MikeMcDoug/prsa-2011-assembly. Check into multiple FourSquare conference locations and sessions. Even send a bit of what you're hearing to colleagues back home by using UStream.
3. Believe the Buzz. PRSA volunteers worked incredibly hard on programming, resulting in a wide variety of professional development topics. So how can you choose the best? A lot rests on the speaker, not just the content. Ask around as to who usually packs a room. See who's actively promoting their sessions on social media platforms (i.e., it means they want you there!). If you've seen a speaker in recent years and he/she is back, feedback must have been good, so see them again discussing a different topic.
4. Find the Gems. Identify at least one professional development session that you wouldn't normally think to attend, and show up there. Doing so lets you stretch your brain, perhaps meet a difference segment of attendees, and even find hidden-in-plain-sight practices that you could bring to your own industry.
5. Use Your Room for Sleeping. Despite the temptation "to get some work done," don't hole up in your hotel room. The conference is a rare chance to network with peers from across the globe, so spend as much time as possible in the hallways, at the sessions, walking the exhibits, and encountering smart, enthusiastic pros and students at every turn.
What's your secret survival tip? Post it in the comments, and we'll share an updated list this weekend. See you in Orlando!