Based in Chicago, Illinois, The Freelance Beat is a blog exploring the triumphs and challenges that freelance journalists encounter in their early and mid-careers.

7 Things You Need for a Big Journalism Conference

7 Things You Need for a Big Journalism Conference

Last year, my mentor asked me if I was heading to the National Association of Black Journalists’ annual conference, which had taken place in New Orleans. I told her I declined to go because of the high combined costs of registration, transportation, lodging and food. I, a recently laid off writer, had an emergency fund saved up, but I didn’t want to blow it all for an event that may or may not lead to a job. Then, I went to the NABJ regional conference later on that year, encountering journalists from across the Midwest, an event that changed my mind.

It was during the regional conference that I and other journalists in attendance found out that the national conference would be in Detroit, Michigan. So, earlier this year, I decided to go to this year’s NABJ Conference in Detroit, so that I could network with editors of key publications, visit my family, and save on hotel, food and travel costs. Staying with my family in Detroit and taking the bus from Chicago to Michigan was a lot more feasible than catching a flight to and spending a ton of cash in a foreign place.

Now, I’m making an effort to invest in myself and learn from fellow writers. If you’re going to the conference, please say hi! If you’re going to a similar event this year, here are some tips on how to prepare:

Business cards

Some say LinkedIn is the new business card, but I disagree. In fact, I find that editors are surprised and delighted when I present them with my well-designed (thanks to my graphic designer BF) business cards. They often comment on the quality and look of the business card, which features a cool keyboard with only my initials on its keys. I’ve ordered 50 of mine from for less than $30.


Bring copies of your resume even if you’re not looking for a job. You never know who you’ll run into and what opportunities you’ll come across during the conference. If you run out and a tablet or 2-in-1 laptop, bring a digital copy of your resume for editors to review. Just be sure to send digital copies of your resume to editors afterwards.


This seems obvious, but it’s easy to forget. You’ll need to take notes of the useful information you’re receiving during the conference. For this, I’d use legal pads or a great note-taking app instead of a reporter’s notebook. Save the latter for actual interviews.

Registration information

Have a printed copy and have it pulled up on your phone before you go to the event. Registering for the event is already stressful, and your phone may die before you it’s your turn in line. Keep a printed copy of your information just in case.

Tablet or light laptop

I’m leaning more towards a tablet on this one, but some people prefer to have their laptops for looking things up or connecting with people during a conference. If you plan on using this, make sure you get the Wifi info as early as possible. Also, make sure everything has been charged ahead of time, and bring your device chargers with you.

A list of desired contacts

See which publications and editors will be there in advance, if possible. That’ll help you focus on who you want to meet while you’re there. If you can, write down the names and titles of people you’d like to meet, too.

Personal items

Wardrobe malfunctions happen. People get nervous. Make sure you prepare for the small problems that could lead to bigger ones. Bring a spare outfit, a stick of deodorant, a swing kit with thread and safety pins, mints, perfume/cologne (less is more, though), sanitary pads and/or tampons, and anything else you might need to make sure you can quickly recover from an accident or wardrobe malfunction.

I’m looking forward to attending my first NABJ national conference. Check back on the blog or The Freelance Beat’s Twitter page for updates. Wish me luck!

How do you prepare for professional conferences? Tell me in the comments or email me at

Takeaways from my first big conference

Takeaways from my first big conference

Yes, you need to take a break

Yes, you need to take a break