You need to figure out how to look after yourself on the road.
If you speak at one or two conferences a year then this post is probably not for you. However if you speak at more than one a month, you can easily find yourself exhausted, unable to enjoy them or to do a good job with your talk. In order to survive, if speaking is going to be a big part of your life, you need to figure out how to look after yourself on the road.
Being sick is no fun, being sick when you are travelling or have a talk to give is many degrees less fun. Travel and meeting a lot of people does make it more likely to catch bugs, however there are simple steps you can take to lessen your chances, or at least help you bounce back to health more quickly.
Getting enough sleep, not drinking too much alcohol, getting into the fresh air to walk or run, and eating as healthily as is possible while on the road is really at the core of this. It does mean you need to be a little strict with yourself, given the party atmosphere of a lot of events. I find that deciding up front whether or not I’m going to have a drink or stay out late and sticking to that is helpful. If you know the late night party is not going to be a good thing for you, let attendees know where else they can chat to you. In many cases conference parties are the worst place for good conversations, as you end up yelling over loud music. You can be available without feeling you need to hang around a party when you would rather be in bed!
Pre-planning is also useful where food is concerned. Some conferences do wonderfully healthy food and snacks, however the majority serve things which are fine as something you eat occasionally, but are best avoided as a main source of nutrition. In particular the morning and afternoon snacks, which are usually cakes and cookies. To avoid temptation, carry some healthy snacks in your bag to eat instead.
In addition to giving your immune system a boost, remember to wash your hands a lot - especially when meeting lots of people and shaking hands.
Put together a fitness routine you can do on the road, even if the hotel gym has a mismatched set of dumbells and an ancient treadmill. Then stick with it. I’m a runner so I combine seeing a little of the places I visit with getting my training done, but heading out for a walk, hiring a bike, or finding a local swimming pool are all achievable even with very little time to spare. I really love it if there is a conference run - that way we get to meet and chat with each other as well as get some exercise.
As with eating well, it is much easier to stick to a fitness routine if you have planned it out earlier. I like to pop my nose into the gym when I arrive at a hotel, so I know what I have to work with and can plan my morning session in advance. There are lots of online programmes you can sign up for which give you daily yoga classes or other workouts, which can be helpful in motivating you to keep to your routines.
Taking time out for you
You don’t have to sit through the entire conference because you are speaking at it, in fact the sessions that interest you less, or where you have seen that speaker’s talk before, can be a very good time to get some time away from crowds. I go hide in my room, or take myself off to a coffee shop. Some conferences are kind enough to create a speakers green room, or a quiet room for attendees and speakers. These places can be havens for a little bit of time out.
If you take your time out during a session, then you can go mingle during the breaks, which is when people are free to speak with you.
Watch your back!
Doing work while travelling is made a lot better if you don’t have permanent back and neck ache from hunching over a laptop. I take my Roost Stand everywhere I go, to get my laptop to a good height for working. It makes all the difference, as does trying to get the desk chair in your room to a good height for the desk - I find those useless scatter cushions are often ideal for this!
Plan flights carefully
Do a bit of research on flight times so that you can arrive and leave at good times for you. A good example is my possible routes to Australia. I can do one route which lands me in Sydney after 24 hours or more of travel at 5am, leaving me staggering round in a blur for a day. Or, there is a routing that lands me at 5pm. Arriving at 5pm means having dinner, going to bed and waking the next morning feeling pretty much ok. This can make a huge difference to how I feel for the rest of my stay.
Bring your hobbies on the road
Some hobbies don’t work so well on the road but many do, and travel can sometimes be a way to find new ones. If you travel a lot, spending some time doing something unrelated to your job is so important, to not feel as if you are essentially working 24/7. I have friends who bring their knitting to conferences, or take the chance to visit art galleries. I enter local races and parkruns and indulge my interest in aviation by visiting air and space museums. You can usually add an extra night onto your stay by offering to pay for that night in the hotel. Give yourself a little breathing room and a chance to do something fun in your location - these mini breaks in a busy schedule can make all the difference to how you feel.
Advent speaker tips: this is part of a series of tips for public speakers that we’re posting throughout advent. Check back daily during December for more.