Sunday, September 27, 2015

Everything you need to get ready for an L&D conference in Las Vegas - 2015 edition!

Las Vegas is a weird, weird place, but it seems like if you want to go to some of the best L&D conferences, you're going to have to be at peace with eventually going there. I've been... well... way more times than you'd ever guess someone who doesn't gamble would end up in Vegas. As a result, I've picked up some nifty tips for navigating the place, getting good deals, and making the most out of a conference there. So I thought I'd share some of what I've found out with you guys.

Now, some of this might look familiar as I originally wrote a version of this post in 2013 (you can read the original on the L&D Global Events blog). Since it's been a few years, though, I thought it was time for a bit of an update.

Before the conference

Hotel discounts
Staying in the conference hotel is pretty darn nice. Unfortunately, even with the conference rate, these hotels can end up a bit pricy, particularly if the money is coming out of your own pocket. One of the nice things about Vegas (yes, I'll admit it has some perks) is that there are an absurd amount of hotels on the Strip at a wide variety of price points. If the conference hotel is a bit much, look online at the hotels on the same block or just across the street. Chances are there's a cheaper one within a 10 minute walk. It's not as convenient, but being willing to walk can save you a bunch of cash. Worried a cheap hotel will be crummy? Well, cheap hotels on the Strip are still way nicer than the average hotel. As long as you're not looking for fancy amenities, chances are you can be pretty happy in one of the less pricy (but still awfully nice) hotels.
Once you've picked a hotel, be sure to check and see if it has a rewards program. This will pay off even more if you're a gambler (it's how they keep track of your gambling bonuses/rewards), but even if you're staying far away from the slot machines and cards it can still sometimes give you small but fun perks like coupons and a members only check in line.
Actually, hotel rewards programs are always smart to check in to, no matter where you're traveling. They've netted me free wi-fi, cheap room upgrades, and other cool perks.

Download the app
If you do one thing before the conference, do this. You may be used to events where the “app” is essentially a PDF of the conference catalog. The L&D conferences I've been to, though, consistently put out well thought out apps with features that actually take advantage of the fact that you have a smart phone/tablet.
These apps tend to include helpful things like a full conference schedule, the ability to curate your own schedule, maps, attendee information, exhibitor and speaker lists, in-app messaging and social media, and sometimes even points. Personally, I'm still not in love with any of the gamification I've seen in these apps, but sometimes they can land you some pretty sweet conference swag. Just promise me you won't be that person who clogs up the app feed with useless posts just so you can get enough points for a fancy mug or shirt. 
Download the app now, play with it to get used to it, say hello to some other attendees, and then use it to begin organizing your trip.

Get on Twitter
Are you on Twitter yet? If you aren’t, conferences can be the thing that will convince you that you should be. The sheer volume of valuable conversations, sharing, and reflections that go on through Twitter during a conference is epic (more on that later). This is something you don’t want to miss out on, so get set up with Twitter, start following the official conference account, find out what the hashtag for the event is, and get your feet wet before the conference.
Already on Twitter? If most of your followers are friends and family rather than L&D professionals, this might be the time to consider setting up a second, professional Twitter account. That way you aren’t annoying your friends with your constant tweeting about your conference (or your new conference connections with Instagram photos of your brunch).

Speaking of social media and connecting with others – some of the best networking happens when you make plans in advance with other attendees.  Be sure to find out who from your network is attending and at least make tentative plans to run into each other during specific times and places.

Packing for a conference can be a bit different than for a regular vacation. Great packing can help you feel less exhausted, avoid blisters and backaches, and keep your costs down too (something really helpful in Vegas). If you want a few tips about what I like to bring, here's a quick video I created about it.

Your Trip to Vegas

Cheap airport shuttle
On a map the Las Vegas airport looks mere moments away from the Strip. In reality it actually is… but thanks to traffic it can still often cost you $25-$40 for a simple cab ride to your hotel. If you want to save some cash and you have a bit of extra time, consider taking one of the airport shuttles instead. At about $8 each way ($14 round trip), it’s a decent amount of savings if you're traveling on your own. If you're traveling with a few people, though, splitting a cab can end up cheaper. If there's more than one of you, do some quick math.
The shuttles are located in the driveway just outside of the baggage claim (near the taxis). Walk outside and look for the shuttle kiosks along the outside of the building. Select your shuttle service, pay, collect your receipt, and then head to your pickup station on the curb (yes, each shuttle company has a different one). Tell the driver which hotel you’re going to and then settle in on the shuttle. The actual time it takes to get to your hotel will vary based on how many (and which) hotels the other passengers are going to, but it’s usually not too long a trip all things considered.
Note: If you’re going to take the shuttle back to the airport, be sure to ask your shuttle service about the process for booking your return trip. Every time I've used a service I've HAD to call 24 hours before I wanted to be picked up to ensure it gets booked. Yeah. This is annoying.

Cheap snacks
Vegas can be an expensive place to eat. However, if you can do breakfast on the cheap and leverage the conference lunch, then that leaves your budget open for splurging a bit on dinner. I do this by bringing my own breakfast bars and snacks, but if you didn't have a chance to do that before your trip, stock up by hitting one of the drug stores along the Strip. They have a surprising amount of groceries in them and their prices are thankfully quite reasonable.
Cheap show tickets
One of the main draws of Vegas is the shows, which are spectacular but admittedly pricey. If you’re open to a bit of chance, be sure to take advantage of Tix4Tonight kiosks ( This company offers substantially discounted day-of tickets to many of the shows in town and there are tons of locations across the Strip. Not every show is offered every day, but the selection is always decent.
Note: In addition to cheap tickets, these locations also offer restaurant discounts (generally around 25-50% off your entrĂ©e). If you’re trying to decide what to have for dinner, a visit to Tix4Tonight might be worth a trip.
Vegas is terrible for walking anywhere quickly

Google Maps would have you believe that the Strip is an easy walk. This is because Google Maps doesn’t seem to be aware of the fact that the sidewalks in Vegas are a maze. Seriously: there isn’t a direct route anywhere. Walking up and down the strip involves navigating sidewalks that loop convolutedly around casinos and merely crossing the street often requires that you use a series of stairs and bridges. If you plan to walk anywhere and don’t want to be late, a good rule of thumb is to take the walking time Google Maps gives you and double it.

At the Conference

Remember how I told you Twitter was going to be important? This is why. A conference backchannel is essentially a real-time collection of all the social media comments and conversations about the event. The backchannel often includes summaries of conference talks, attendee conversations and reactions, links, and even photos and video, all of which make it a wealth of information. It’s also a fantastic way to meet new people.
So how do you tap in to the backchannel? Do a search in Twitter for the hashtag and you can see what people have been saying and sharing about the conference. Want to add to the backchannel yourself? Just remember to always include the conference hashtag in every tweet you want to share.
Note: Can’t attend the conference in person? You can still enjoy the conference from afar via the backchannel.

Keep fed and watered

In the midst of all this excitement it’s very easy to forget your basic needs. Of course, do that during a conference and you’ll eventually be hit with a massive wave of exhaustion right in the middle of the event. Plus, hotel air in Vegas is dry and smoky, so it's absurdly easy to get dehydrated and dragged out. Take care of yourself and remember to stop by the free refreshments tables provided by the conference. Visit them often!

After the Conference

Look for opportunities to save on the conference next year
Did you know that a paid membership to the organization that puts on a conference can sometimes get you a big discount on entry? It's true. For instance, if you have a paid eLearning Guild membership, you get a decent discount on all their conferences. If you're planning on attending just a single conference this discount can sometimes pay for your membership fees AND still save you a chunk of change. On top of that, you get all the benefits of membership for the rest of the year too. Can't complain about that.
Note: Guess what? For some conferences you can chain this member discount on top of early bird discounts. Hooray for additional savings!

1 comment:

  1. at a popular training conference held in january, the conference hotel is and a breakfast sandwich is easily $15. a 10 minute walk across the street can get you the same for around $8.
    better yet is to go to the early "networking" meetings conferences often schedule. usually free coffee and you can also use the conference wifi.
    i also stop at one of the popular drugstores on the strip and buy fruit and yogurt for way less that at the hotel. oh! and beer too. just be careful with the mini bar fridge. move anything in it and you'll get a "restocking" fee, even if you didn't take anything out!