By Steely Anderson

I recently traveled from Austin to Seattle to attend the Create & Cultivate conference. Create & Cultivate was started by Jaclyn Johnson in 2012 with the purpose of inspiring budding entrepreneurs in a creative environment. Think panels led by key note speakers all by some amazingly talented women who are on the top of their game. It takes place in a different city with different panelists and key note speakers each time. It’s a beautiful production and seems to be getting better and better with each one. Curious if attending a networking conference is for you? Here are my top 10 takeaways from this event to help you in your decision-making process.

1. DECIDING BETWEEN GA v. VIP

As a small business owner (or a gal pursuing her side-hustle), we have to consider the budget. I struggled with deciding whether or not to splurge on the VIP pass for this event and ultimately ended up doing GA (General Admission). While I don’t regret my decision, the VIP pass definitely has it’s perks. Firstly, you get to choose your track (which is what panelists you get to listen to) and your mentors. If you’re attending the event specifically because someone you admire will be a panelist, being able to choose them as your mentor is an AWESOME opportunity! The mentor power hour consists of one 30-minute session with each of your mentors, and they break you up in to smaller groups so it’s a very intimate setting and an opportunity to ask as many questions as you can squeeze in in the 30 minute window. You also have access to the VIP lounge all day, which is swanky and serves booze and other treats that are exclusive to VIPers. Those are the two biggest perks of getting a VIP pass, though there are others, such as a few more goodies in your swag bag.

2. PREPPING FOR THE DAY

With such a jam-packed day ahead of you, you’ll want to be as prepared as possible. The event is from 8am – 8pm, so you’re looking at a 12 hour day of sensory overload – and lots of walking! I found the Create & Cultivate website really useful for gathering important information for the event, including tips on what to wear. They also have a page dedicated to the conference with articles on various topics such as how to plan for taking the time off, everything you can expect while at the conference, and more. If you’re traveling to the destination, like I did, bringing the right attire is crucial. I wore some cute new booties but thankfully had an extra pair of comfortable sneakers in my bag that I changed in to within three hours. The majority of this event was outside (mostly under tents) but take in to account the weather, the location and what you’re going to feel comfortable and confident in for that amount of time. Bring or wear layers if you need to and get plenty of rest the night before, you’ll need it!

3. WHAT TO BRING

If you tend to have low storage on your phone or a short battery life, you’ll want to think about this before the event. Take some time to free up as much storage as you can and bring your phone charger to get a boost when you need it. Bonus points if you bring a separate portable charger, as finding an outlet might be challenging. There are so many gram-worthy moments and scenes you’ll likely want to capture and the last thing you want is to miss those photo-ops because your storage is full. You don’t need to bring a notebook because they will provide a gorgeous one to you when you arrive, but do bring a pen!

4. PRACTICE YOUR PITCH

I realize we may not all have a “pitch”, but if you own your own business or are looking to start one, this is the perfect opportunity to practice your pitch and market your business. You’ll be meeting so many women who will want to know what you do, so be ready to tell them! Bring lots of business cards if you have them, it’s the easiest way to stay in touch and make real connections after the event.

5. FOOD/DRINK

The food, drinks and snacks were all really good! Breakfast is provided right when you arrive, along with coffee, of course. If you’re a tea drinker, you might want to bring your own as they only had coffee at this event. However, they also had water, kombucha and delicious juice shots. Unless you’re VIP, booze isn’t served until the ending happy hour, which starts at 7pm. They had plenty of options for those that are dairy-free, gluten-free and vegan. My best advice is to stay hydrated because as the day progresses, you’ll start to get fatigued and you don’t have much time in between the panels so keep water on you.

6. TIMELINE

They will provide you with an itinerary and a map, so you’ll always know where you need to be. However, for what it’s worth, you do not need to be there right at 8am. The doors open at 8am but then you just grab breakfast and sit and wait until the first panel starts at 9:30am. You can walk around the pop-up shops during that time, and they will likely have some additional things going on, but if you’re running late or aren’t a super early morning person, you should be fine showing up any time before 9:30am. Once the panels start, you might find yourself rushing from one to the next, but they do schedule in a few decent breaks throughout the day so you can relax or enjoy the pop-up shops and beauty lounge. There are a ton of awesome vendors so make sure to visit the lounge!

7. PACE YOURSELF

As I mentioned, this is a really long day (BUT A FUN ONE!). You will have plenty of time to visit the lounge and walk around, so try and pace yourself so that you’re not totally crashing by 2pm. There will likely be close to 1000 attendees, so it can be overwhelming trying to decide where to go and who to talk to. I found that when I sat down somewhere, I always had someone to talk to. Everyone is there to meet people and network, so don’t feel bad about it and don’t worry that you’re going to be all alone. If you attend the opening happy hour the night before the event, you’ll likely meet some girls there that you’ll see again at the conference. If you feel like you need a little quiet time to reset, TAKE IT. I would even recommend a short meditation session if you can fit it in, just to clear your mind from all of the information and sensory overload.

8. PREP QUESTIONS

I’d recommend sitting down before the event and researching your mentors (if you aren’t already familiar with them). Figure out who they are and what they do, and come up with a few questions that interest you. The time with them goes by really fast, so if you’ve already got a few questions prepared, you’ll be in great shape and won’t have to stress the day-of. You can also ask questions at the end of every panel, though you’re up against a lot more people so may not get called on. If you know you’ll have some questions for any of the panelists, write those down, too. And don’t be afraid to follow up with your mentors if you had a question but didn’t have a chance to ask it.

9. PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE

This is not the time to give in to your introverted self. If you tend to get nervous in networking or social settings, try to get past that for this event. Remind yourself that everyone is there to meet people, and most of them are there alone. All you have to do is walk up to someone, smile and introduce yourself. If you shy away from the groups and meeting people, you won’t get the most out of this. There are nearly 1000 women all in the same place at the same time for the same reason (more or less), so take advantage of this and have fun with it!

10. FINAL THOUGHTS

Overall, I had an amazing time and am so happy that I went. The entire production is so well-done and they really think about the details. I felt inspired as soon as I walked in, and they really do an amazing job of making every attendee feel special and empowered. I was really impressed with the line-up of panelists and key note speakers, so many women that I look up to and admire! The vendors they choose are all great as well and are there to pamper you and glam you up, so take advantage of that. I was sad that it ended, although my feet weren’t! I highly recommend Create & Cultivate and am already looking forward to attending another one in the future.
About Steely Anderson, founder of Bon Vivant
 Steely started Bon Vivant Gift Boxes in 2016 with a mission of providing excellent service and an amazing gifting experience. All of the brands that Bon Vivant features are either locally made, small-batch, eco-friendly and/or fair trade. She hand-picks each item and curates each box to be themed for all of life’s momentous occasions.The added touch of a fresh flower arrangement for local deliveries or a beautiful air plant for shipped boxes makes these gift boxes even more special. The gift boxes are hand-delivered in Austin and shipped everywhere else nationwide.