So we’ve rounded the end of a week of technology education at Collaborate 12, and you’re probably thinking, “Yeah, and I’m a bit *rounder* too after 5 or 6 days of solid bar food consumption day after day.” Well this cast is dedicated to being a “eater and not a foodie” coining a catch-phrase made famous by one of my favorite food podcasts, The Sporkful, available at www.thesporkful.com and after attending about 20 years of conventions, I thought I’d provide my insight into the wonderful world of caloric cacaphony at a convention, consumption-wise.
This time, because the price was right, I flew, which means you get your drink and a very small snack. These days, the flight attendants are a little more generous about handing you 2 or 3 packets of those infamous “lightly salted nuts,” which transformed over the years from being Planters dry roasted to a bulk supplier, currently KingNut dot com which seems to carry a mind-boggling array of snackables you’d find in your typical aircraft galley. These days pick something relatively nutritious to bring aboard for a longer flight, like a fruit or veg salad, or a meal bar, or for something more substantial maybe an antipasto salad. But try not to dive into the calorie pool at the start by fast packing a burger and fries at the beginning. Save that for a reward on the return trip when you can return to a normal menu plan. It will help with your digestion and save you a few fatigue points from sitting so long breathing compressed air.
So you arrive, and usually the first evening’s dinner, you’re on your own. So depending on the city, you’re tired from travelling, so you scope out the hotel’s coffee shop, or equivalent, or maybe tilt the scale in the opposite direction and decide to max out your per diem on some fine dining. Either way, you’re still in control of your digestive destiny at this point. Biggest hint here is to stick to dining in your destination time zone, even while en route. It will help your body’s metabolism adjust to any time changes and you’ll generally be able to adapt faster to the local time. So if you took off at 9 a.m. but you arrive at 1 p.m. local, try to eat a lunch-type meal instead of your usual breakfast.
Day 1 of a conference begins usually with a continental breakfast, meaning coffee or tea and some kind of carb, typically donuts, danishes, or some kinds of muffins. Here’s where you can begin eating better. If you’re remotely related to any part of your organizations purchasing process, such as a approver, or recommender / influencer, you’ll want to have pre-contacted your favorite vendors to let them know you’ll be in-town, and maybe meet up with them for breakfast or lunch on one of the days. You’ll eat better, and sticking with people who do conventions for a living will help you eat more normally than automatically gobbling whatever is provided with your registration fee.
If Day 1 happens to be on a Sunday, you’ll be dining on your own again. But if we’re kicking off a Monday, prepare for a cold box lunch, followed by an exhibit hall reception. The box lunches are pretty common these days, but do yourself a favor and take a look at the unique combinations that might be available. Catering gets pretty creative with swapping out salads and desserts these days, and be brave and suggest trades with others, if the opportunity presents itself. It’s just like being back at school, except there are probably a few thousand lunch boxes, and kids don’t get charged $20 a head by a catering company for a sandwich and beverage.
Let’s talk receptions. In the convention world, that means alcohol served with some kinds of rich-tasting, but cheap appetizers, usually in mass quantities, and usually scattered throughout an exhibit hall to encourage you to at least walk by and glance at what the real convention sponsors have to offer. Please understand that convention budgets are not what you might believe – your registration fee, however high it is, probably only goes to cover the marketing and facilities for an event. Vendors paying for exhibit booths are how you are able to have free meals, interesting parties, and lots of happy experiences as an attendee. They in conjunction are hoping that at least one out of a hundred people they meet all week long may result in some kind of sales revenue. So, at least have a chat with them while you’re gathering swag and entering raffles on the exhibit floor. Even if you’re not a qualified buyer you’ll be letting them know their expenses are worth the presence.
Typical appetizer buffets are scattered and repeated throughout a hall. You don’t have to stop and start lining up at the first one you see when you enter the Exhibit area. Take a few minutes and scope things out – you might find treasures in other places, and without the dreaded buffet lines. Dessert tables are usually fewer, but relatively line-free, so you can usually wait for those. Same goes for the drinks – learn to see how the catering company likes to scatter the open bar areas. There’s always some food table or bar in the hall without an extended line waiting to gobble and gulp. Just remember, alcohol, whether wine or vodka, averages around 100 calories per drink. And beer counts about 150 cals per bottle. They are also found in mass quantities at these events, so between the high-fat appetizers and 2 or 3 drinks, you just hit 2,000 calories just browsing for a couple hours. This is one environment when eating and nibbling becomes quite dangerous very quickly. Think to yourself a mantra of quality over quantity.
Take time to ask vendors about which parties or other non-conference events are planned. Depending on the venue, vendor events are a great way to maximize your quality-to-quantity ratio. Just be careful because everything is usually buffet, and vendor catering rarely selects nutrition over visual perception of richness. After all, a vendor event is a captive opportunity to provide a impression of the vendor’s generosity or at least demonstrate a sense of flair or style. and nothing conveys that sense of richness like another pound of butter or cheese added to the recipe, or a little over-pouring on the mixed drinks. Again, try to seek the quality items first. You can probably consume a dozen of those roast beef cheddar sliders, but keep your eye out for passed plates of the choicer items and pace yourself accordingly. If the event caterer is doing things properly, there will be plenty of food distributed 60/30/10 throughout the evening. If edibles seem scarce and you find yourself standing and waiting to pounce on the appetizer plates as they emerge from the kitchen, do as a friend of mine did and just get yourself a table and order them for yourself instead. They’ll probably be better quality than the ones that others are grabbing at like squirrels, and you’ll have a more relaxing time to enjoy the party.
So, if you think of the convention as one really big impulse buy counter, which typically encourages you to eat way beyond your proportions and consume mass quantities, you might be able to curb your enthusiasm a bit and go for the diamonds instead of the gold. Pound for pound, you body and your health will be better for it.
And if you weren’t able to attend Collaborate this year, you can visit our blog on ioug dot org and see a few videos from the before and after events that are the bookends for this great week of education and networking, and give you a little idea of how we at IOUG like to make sure you’re having a great experience learning from the very best at Collaborate.