9 Recommended Tech Tools for a Conference Attendee

tech organizer for accessoriesI don’t attend as many conferences as some people, for sure. There are those I know who whisk off to different parts of the world to attend such conferences–I’m not quite one of those.  I’m usually going to at least 1-2 local conferences, and 1-2 not local conferences a year on average.  This year, at this writing, I’m only planning on one big conference, and namely that’s the STC Summit in a couple of days.

While I’m on these trips, I usually try to put some careful consideration into what I’m bringing with me. This year, I have my car (an SUV, no less) with me, so I can load up the car as much as I want.  But in other years, like many, I usually have to get on a plane to get to the conference destination, so taking as few things–and lighter items–is necessary.

Liz Fraley wrote an excellent article about a year ago about her Presenter’s Tech Travel Kit, and it’s pretty comprehensive.  I have most of the same items as she does. Some I don’t travel with, and some are items I still desire to add to my travel tech.

But that was written from the perspective of a frequent presenter. What about some recommendations for those who aren’t presenters, but still want to bring some basic tech with them?

I’m looking at this perspective myself, as I’m not a presenter this year. I usually have one big suitcase for clothes, shoes, things I picked up at the conference, but I also need to bring tech, since I am either taking notes, or sharing my experiences on social media during a conference. I’m still developing what works for me best, but there are a few things that I usually bring with me no matter where I go, whether I’m a presenter or attendee. There are also a few (hopefully) clever solutions to help lighten my load, but maintain some good tech.

  1. My iPad/tablet
    My iPad comes with me everywhere. I have a large, 17 inch laptop, and while it’s one of the “lighter” ones, it’s still rather heavy, and it’s a pain (literally and figuratively) to carry places.  In most instances, I don’t need to bring a full laptop computer with me, as I’m only accessing  my word processing programs (Notes or Word) for note taking, I have full access to social media apps, I can still get my email, I still have Skype–I have most of what I need to record what I need and still communicate with the outside world in my iPad.  My iPad is thin, and it’s lightweight. It’s as good as having a paper notebook in size and weight, but better.

    Someday, I hope to be able to afford one of those super sleek, thin, streamlined ultrabooks that I can bring anywhere, but in the meantime, this will do nicely. If you don’t have an iPad, an Android or Fire or other equivalent will probably do just as nicely.

  2. My Wireless Keyboard
    This is an optional one, only because I don’t have an iPad cover that is also a Bluetooth keyboard. But having my wireless Apple keyboard–or for that matter, any Bluetooth keyboard–is great because then you feel like you do have a very compact laptop with you. I keep it in a special case (similar to this one–same manufacturer, older model) that has some extra storage. (Waterfield has some nice travel bags as well.)

    But what if you have to access a “power” program due to a workshop, and there isn’t an app for that? Well, I’ve figured that out too, but it’s on a case-by-case basis (meaning there are some exceptions when I, unfortunately, do have to lug my laptop with me). I hate bringing my laptop just for one workshop or one session, when I know I’m not going to use it for the rest of the conference.  I have a solution that might work for you, and it’s worked for me.

  3. Remote Machine apps
    Yes, if you pick the right one and play with it a little bit first, there are some decent remote machine apps that will connect your tablet (in my case, my iPad) to your laptop at home. You just have to install the app on your iPad, make sure the app is installed on your laptop at home, and remember to leave your laptop on at home before you leave! I’ve played with a few.

    TeamViewer is a popular one. My husband likes that one. It’s free for individual use. There’s also Splashtop. That one, if you are travelling, is about $3/month, but it provides a good connection. I used that last year, and it’s another popular one.

    This year, I’ve switched over to a free one that’s available, and I like this one the best. It’s called VNC Viewer. There’s an app for it on iTunes, and it’ll give you directions on how to make your laptop the “VNC Server”. The beauty of this one is that it’s mostly maintained on the cloud! And it’s free for individuals! I also liked the screen resolution on this one, because it showed what’s on my laptop screen better than the others, and I could get the tapping tasks down easier than the others.  I could access those “power” apps (like various XML editors) from my home laptop from my iPad, and still do the same actions as if I were using my laptop. There might be a few tricks to use it on an iPad, but the work itself is being done on my home laptop. Cool!

  4. Skyroam Personal Hotspot device
    This is a new item that I’ve added to my collection. It’s a personal hotspot that doesn’t work off your phone, and it works internationally in most major countries.  You buy unlimited connectivity passes which last the full 24 hours.  If you buy your passes in bulk, they come out to be about $8 per day, and you can connect up to 5 devices at a time. The device is usually around $100, and comes with 3 free day passes to start. You can also rent them at airports and–I think–through the website at skyroam.com.

    Why would I need that? I bought it for a few reasons. First, during my last international trip, I found I was using the data that I had bought through my phone contract wasn’t enough for when I was out and about. It was a lot of data just trying to pull up a map and figure out where I was going! And wifi wasn’t always perfect trying to glean it off of stores or other public places. This way, in the future, I’d have this small device with me, and not have that problem anymore. Second, when we travel, my son is ALWAYS using up a lot of data so he can play games on his phone. This, again, eliminates the huge cost. The last reason I got it was that even though certain conferences offer wifi services, sometimes, well, they just aren’t great wifi connections.

    Since I do a lot of Twitter feeds and such during conferences, it’s important that I have a solid wi-fi connection. This solves this problem. I used my Skyroam at the CONDUIT conference last month, and it works GREAT.

  5. My Smart Travel Router and International Power Converters
    This one is especially helpful if you are travelling internationally, but I still bring them with me on domestic trips as well.  They not only provide international outlet adapters for other countries, but they usually have 2 USB outlets on them to charge my devices. I use these heavily– I have 3 of these, so I can charge up to 6 devices at a time if needed! One of these three is my smart travel router. The one I own is a Satechi Smart Travel Router, which you can find on various websites to order. If you have access to a network cable, this little device is marvelous. It’s not only a outlet adapter that has USB outlets on it, but it also acts as a mini wifi router when connected to a wired network.

    I’ll give you an example when it came in handy. When I went to IEEE ProComm, I stayed at one of the dorms at the University of Limerick. They had no wifi available in the rooms. HOWEVER, they did have network outlets. All I did was connect my networking cable to that outlet, plugged the other side into this Smart Router, and VOILA! I was the only one who had wifi! I was able to talk to my family on Skype at night and check on other things that required internet connectivity.

  6. Battery packs/Power banks

    Portable batteries/power banks come in all sizes. I actually bring three– two small ones and a big one. Why? I don’t want to be lugging a charging cord and power adapter for my iPad or my phone and trying to be near the nearest outlet.  These batteries can easily charge overnight, so I will charge the big one (which has two outlets for two devices) one night while I use the smaller two, and then switch off the next day.You can find smaller ones under US$10, and some of the larger, more powerful ones can get to cost as much as $70. Pick what’s whatever in your budget, and you’ll find it’s handy to have just in case. My two little ones were gifts, whereas my bigger one is one I bought for about US$25-30.  You can get fairly powerful ones these days, and find them almost anywhere that they sell phone and tablet accessories.
  7. Cables/Power Cords
    This is an obvious one. You can’t charge any of these devices up with a plug, battery, car power adapter, or wall power adapter unless you have all the right cables and cords! I always ensure that I have one for each device (for me, that’d be 2 Apple lightning cords), and at least 1-2 USB-C cords that will charge the battery packs. Sometimes you can get a power cord that powers multiple devices–a multi-port cord. I have one of those that one of the vendors gave out at a past conference that works beautifully, even with my fickle i-Devices. I keep them all together in a Skooba Design cable wrap case so I can find them easily, and it’s compact. (Skooba Design also has some nice travel bags as well.)
  8. Earphones of some sort
    I tend to bring a few things redundantly, so I do bring my regular Apple earphones with me, but I also bring my fancy Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones with me as well. The second ones are for the noise cancelling feature. Sometimes I just need to tune out, you know? (Introverts, take note!)
  9. Extra batteries
    If my Apple keyboard or the noise cancelling feature of my Bose headphones die, then I have at least one set of backup batteries (2-AAs, 1-AAA) with me. I keep them in the small case I keep my keyboard in.

That seems to cover the basics of what I find I need as a conference attendee. I don’t run out of power. I have something to take notes electronically or connect to the outside world. I have devices to help me connect to the Internet. I’m pretty much set, and it can all easily fit in my messenger bag or backpack, and still have room in my bag to collect some goodies from the Exhibition Hall.

As a presenter, I think the only other things I would bring would be some sort of an A/V adapter (see Liz’s article for suggestions–I just hook up my iPad with my adapter, and I’m good), or as is often suggested, I bring a thumb/flash drive with my presentation on it–just in case.

Between my list and Liz’s list, can you think of other devices, tools, or other tech accessories that you find that you absolutely need to bring with you to a conference? Include your comments below.

About TechCommGeekMom

Danielle M. Villegas is a technical communicator who has recently started her own technical communications consultancy, Dair Communications. She has worked at the International Refugee Committee, MetLife, Novo Nordisk, and BASF North America, with a background in content strategy, web content management, social media, project management, e-learning, and client services. Danielle is best known in the technical communications world for her blog, TechCommGeekMom.com, which has continued to flourish since it was launched during her graduate studies at NJIT in 2012. She has presented webinars and seminars for Adobe, the Society for Technical Communication (STC), the IEEE ProComm, TCUK (ISTC) and at Drexel University’s eLearning Conference. She has written articles for the STC Intercom, STC Notebook, the Content Rules blog, and The Content Wrangler as well. You can learn more about Danielle on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/daniellemvillegas, on Twitter @techcommgeekmom, or through her blog.
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2 Responses to 9 Recommended Tech Tools for a Conference Attendee

  1. Awesome that you wrote yours up! Photographers post what’s in their kits and share that around, so I’m glad you shared yours. I hope more people do..

    This month I’ll be trying out the Skyroam (thanks to you!) at Summit, AIIP, and during a short personal trip. We’ll see if it gets added. Scott Prentice has me on another similar trail, so it’s got some competition.

    I know not everyone needs everything in my Presenter’s Kit — not even me. At least , not for personal travel. But I’ve become SO accustomed to being able to pick up my Presenter’s Kit and just go, I wanted that same convenience for personal travel. My family travels infrequently and sometimes we take our work devices with us, sometimes not. I can’t get enough of the KIT convenience: Voila! My Family Travel Kit.

    Three Things Everyone Needs in Their Family Travel Kit — It’s some the same, some different, definitely trimmed down to just the essentials: http://blog.single-sourcing.com/2017/02/essential-travel-tech/

    • Hi Liz,
      Thanks for your response! Yes, you inspired me with your original Presenter’s Kit post, and I did see the Family Travel Kit as well. I know my family definitely has certain digital needs when we go off on vacations. As I mentioned in my post, the Skyroam should prove helpful as we travel this year and in the future. We always have at least two tablets (in our case, iPads) with us with movies or TV shows loaded up to watch in case the wifi is bad. I know when we were on a cruise last year, it was rough when we couldn’t get wifi at sea. The cruise ship made a fortune off all of us who wanted it (we only got it for the last day or two), and the Skyroam won’t work at sea. But, in Mexico, Ireland, and the US–the only places I’ve been to in the last few years, it’s supposed to work fine. As you know, the device was a lifesaver at CONDUIT for the keynote presentations! I’m always trying to be the most digitally connected with the least amount of tech with me, so my list might grow or get smaller as time goes by and tech improves. Thanks for chiming in!

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