Hotel Life: What to Know When You're Staffing a Huge Conference for Work

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

I don't talk much about my real-life job on this blog, & it's come to my attention, actually, that some readers are thus under the impression that I don't have one. I'm sort of impressed that I managed to convey that I'm some full-time blogger & freelancer, when the reality is that I work a 9-to-5 every day.

I won't go into too much detail about my job except to say that I work for a nonprofit, & I love it. Yep, you heard me: I love my job. I've worked for the same organization since I graduated from college in 2007, which means I'm coming up on my 10-year anniversary, which is bananas. Sometimes I feel like I should find a new job, but I don't want to find a new job because, like I said, I really like mine.

Last weekend, my org hosted a 1,400-person conference in Chicago. Our attendees were mainly high schoolers - yep, 1,000+ teenagers! - plus a smaller adult conference that ran parallel to the teen programming. This particular conference took place in a Hyatt Regency, which was the same hotel where we stayed. As a result, we spent a lotttt of time in the hotel!

...but not a lot of time in this glorious hotel bed, unfortunately, or in the city of Chicago itself. So what did we do? Here's a look at what it's like to staff a big work conference like this.

There's no time to see anyone who's not at the event.

As soon as I posted to Instagram that I was in Chicago, I sort of regretted it. There are so many people I know & love in the Windy City, & I knew I wasn't going to have time to see any of them. When event programming runs from 8am to 10:30pm every single day, there's just no way to squeeze in personal time. And in that vein...

Forget about seeing the sights.

Last weekend's event took place just blocks from the Bean, but I didn't get to see it because I never left the hotel. Literally. OK, I stepped outside three times to breathe fresh air, each time for less than five minutes. But beyond that? Nope, never. OK, a few colleagues took a lunch break to run to the Bean & grab Shake Shack, but I opted for a nap instead. Oops.


Water. Is. Everything

Yeah, I know, this is always true, but hotels are so dry, & when you're spending all your time inside one, you dry out pretty quickly, too. I didn't drink nearly enough water, which is probably why I ended up so sore & dehydrated by the end of the weekend. I know it's gross & TMI, but you know how you can tell whether you're drinking enough water, right? Your pee should be very light, close to clear. Too yellow? Drink up!  

Eating well is even more difficult than usual

Even with all that time spent in a hotel, I didn't find time to eat in the hotel restaurant! Instead, I grabbed breakfast, lunch, & dinner from a small market in the hotel lobby (think bagels, bananas, potato chips, & Diet Coke),  & on a few occasions, I ate scheduled meals with our teens & got a little bit of protein. I've never been so excited for hotel chicken! It didn't help that a former coworker sent us an Amazon shipment of junk food for the weekend, or that we ordered deep dish pizza twice. Hey, we had to get in a little bit of Chicago!

But at least you'll take lots of steps!

I've misplaced by FitBit charger, so I didn't wear it over the weekend, but the pedometer on my phone says I got in a couple thousand more steps every day than I do on a regular basis. I mean, gotta burn off that pizza somehow, right?

Don't expect to get much sleep.

I slept for about six hours a night, which is more than I usually expect to get at an event like this. I was assigned a random roommate, a colleague whose name I knew but who I'd never met, & we were almost never in the room at the same time. She worked later & woke up even earlier than I did! On Monday, I got home from the airport at 5pm & settled in for a little nap... that I didn't wake up from until 11am the next day. I am 32 years old & that should not be possible. But my body was tired, you guys, because event staffing is exhausting.

A little comp time is well-deserved.

I used to feel bad about asking for a comp day after I'd worked a full event - but not anymore. Staffing events is way more work than usual, & we are not superheroes, nor are any of us, presumably, paid enough to go weeks without a break (is anyone?!). I took Tuesday off & am considering taking Monday off, too, because #treatyoself, #selfcare, etc.

Now that I'm home & well-rested, I'm feeling good again. Exhausting as it was, it was a great event, & it reminded me how lucky I feel to work for an organization that I believe in, staffed by incredible, interesting, intelligent, driven people who I feel fortunate to know. This place built me, & these people continue to help me grow. It was truly an honor to pay it forward by staffing an event that helped do the same for 1,000 teenagers.

But if you'll forgive me, I'm probably gonna get back in bed here shortly. Our next big event is 5,000+ attendees in Boston this December. I've gotta rest up!

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