Packing for Road Shows: What to Wear, How to Prepare

Packing for the Hewlett-Packard (HP) Global Partner Conference in Las Vegas this week was a breeze.

  • Shirts and neck ties? Check.
  • Suit pants and khakis? Check.
  • Dress shoes? Check.
  • Casual Attire (jeans, t-shirts, sneakers, etc.)? Check.
  • Mobile Devices? Check.
Fifteen minutes at max, all into one very large carry-on. It sounds easy enough, but my packing efficiency didn't develop overnight. It's taken almost a year of over-packing, then under packing, and being uncomfortably overdressed or under dressed at  several different events before I learned the in's and out's and do's and dont's of working and dressing on the road. I learned it the hard way. So to save you some time and spare you some potentially embarrassing moments, here are three tips on how to prepare for technology conference events.

1. Don't be "that guy"

You never want to be "that guy." You know, "that guy" that everybody talks about in their hotel room or at dinner. "That guy" who walked into the press conference 10 minutes late and made me get up so he could take the only available seat in the middle of our row. Or "that guy" whose phone went off in the middle of a product announcement. Or "that guy" who had the giant stone-age laptop screen I couldn't see beyond.

Avoiding this is simple but critical. It's all about preparation. Put your phone on silent or vibrate. Learn the layout of the conference and where the rooms are so you can arrive a few minutes early and pick out a prime spot. And table space is usually limited, so keep the giant laptops in your hotel room. If you don't have a mobile device to take notes on, go with pen and paper. I actually prefer this to the tablet because I can take notes quicker. Remember: one of the best parts of these shows is meeting new people, and you're chances of that are slim if you get the "that guy" label.

2. Dress Accordingly

This one is all about a happy medium. You're not in the office, but you're still working. Save the gym shorts and Bill Belichick hoodies for the hotel spa. But you're also not going to a wedding or to prom. Boutonnieres, white suites, top hats. All of them are deal breakers. I know it sounds obvious but I've seen people on both ends of the fashion spectrum.

I'm not going to dive into female fashion. But guys -- dress shirt and khakis or suit pants please. If you're wearing a sport coat, you can even do jeans. A simple necktie if it makes you feel put together, though I usually save the tie for the evening events. Nothing over the top and nothing that makes you look like you just rolled out of bed.

3. Mobile Devices are Key

My rocky relationship with mobile devices has been well documented. But even I have to admit that mobile devices are essential at technology conferences. PR folks are constantly blowing you up with calls and emails about schedule changes and one-on-one meetings. You need to have a smartphone and/or tablet through which you can access your work email at any time. And make sure they're fully charged AND that you carry your chargers in your computer bag (which you should also have with you) all the time. There's not worse feeling than running out of battery while you're recording a conversation. Or going to the wrong location because you didn't get the email about the room change. These things happen all the time, and we all need to be prepared.

The three above tips don't cover everything, but it's a good start to having a productive and fun time a these events. As for the other road essentials? Well, you're just gonna have to learn them the hard way...
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