Hispanicize 2012—the annual Latino trends and newsmakers event for Hispanic marketers, media, bloggers, filmmakers and music artists—was like networking on steroids. During the social media conference, I cemented in real life plenty of Twitter and Facebook-initiated relationships that have since flourished even more. There was not a moment when I wondered who to talk to or what to do. I learned during the panels, mingled in between, and came away feeling that I simply could not miss Hispanicize 2013, which will take place in Miami Beach from April 9-13. It promises to be even more interesting and spectacular than last year, with film and music festivals and special events, in addition to the journalist and blogger panels happening all day, every day.

I will be a panelist at Your Ultimate Guide to Freelancing in the Digital Age, which will provide information and guidance to those wanting to make a career of writing online. Mamiverse CEO Rene Alegria will be speaking at the panel The Book Within, on honing your writing skills to make your book a published reality. Other Mamiverse contributors speaking are our community manager Eileen Carter-Campos, and writers Laura Fuentes and Kathy Cano-Murillo, among others.

Let’s face it, a guy pretty much throws two pairs of pants and shirts into a suitcase, along with underwear, a razor, and a stack of business cards, and he’s good to go to any conference. For us ladies it’s a little different. So, based on what I experienced last year at Hispanicize and at other social media conferences, here are my recommendations for how to make the best of your stay. And yes, that includes what to wear! Start out by reading the Hispanicize FAQs, which will answer a lot of your concerns.

Booking Your Hotel
If you have booked your hotel room at the Eden Rock and are still balking at the price, don’t. Just get yourself some roommates! You can find them in the Hispanicize Facebook Group or even post a request on social media. Rooming with other attendees is not only a money-saver, it is also a great way to bond and get even more out of the experience. On the other hand, if you go to a different and more affordable hotel, I can tell you firsthand that you will perhaps spend more money on cabs, gas, dinners and parking fees than if you simply stay at the convention hotel. In addition, you will be able to retreat to your room to recharge your laptop, smartphone or your own batteries as needed. The schedule is packed and if you have to go elsewhere to put your feet up, you are just not going to get the most from the event. Do pack earplugs and an eye mask so you can tune out your roomies when you need some shuteye.

Style Guide
Manny Ruiz, the brains behind Hispanicize, says he wants the conference to be casual and laid-back, so jeans and a t-shirt are fine, every day, all day. Now, while I wore jeans some of the time last year, and will do so again this time around, as a busy mom, I also enjoy dressing up for some of the events, just for the fun of it. So, in addition to wedges, denim and t-shirts, I will also be packing some nice dresses and killer heels. If you like to work out, the beach is right behind the hotel, so pack your running shoes and workout clothes, or get your fitness fix at the hotel gym. Bathing suit and sunscreen in April? Yes! The weather in Miami is warm and humid, but pack a shawl, jean jacket or cardigan for when you are indoors, since freezing A/C temps are the norm here. 

Read Related: 10 Tips to Promote Your Blog Using Social Media

It may go without saying, but just in case, take it all! Smartphone, tablet and laptop. Of course bring your chargers, and if you have extra juice packs for your phone, don’t leave those behind. You will want to use all your gadgets to keep up with the schedule. Download the Free Hispanicize 2013 app from the iTunes store—it is interactive, so you can customize your conference experience. You are going to take gazillions of pictures, so if you have a camera in addition to your smartphone, throw it in your bag, too.

Tote Bag
After my first conference blunder where I carried a handbag in addition to a tote bag and was bent over with a sore back by the end of the day, I have since pared down to just the tote bag. It is my carryall for electronics, plugs, breath-freshener and stack of business cards. If I’m tempted to carry something more, then I use a very small (and I really mean very small) messenger style bag which holds my credit card, business cards, lipstick and phone.

Room for Swag
If you’re traveling by plane, make sure you leave some room for the swag you may get at the conference. On your last day, consider whether it’s worth paying the excess baggage fee in exchange for taking a ton of branded knick-knacks, however. After one particular event, I simply put it all in a bag with a nice note for the hotel housekeepers. I do like to take a few mementos for my kiddos. Some brands will ship your goodies to you.


DO’s & DON’Ts

DO wear your badge at all times, so that people who you may have interacted with online will be able to know who you are when they see you. Some tweeps use avatars instead of a photo, so if they see your name or Twitter handle, it is easier to connect.

DO carry more business cards than you may think you need. Many people ran out last year. Shoot for 250-500. No, I’m not kidding.

DO introduce yourself to people, and if you need to contact them, use social media—especially Twitter, with the #Hispz13 hashtag. It will make it easier for you to connect. Remember, everyone is there for similar reasons. Don’t go home regretting not having dared to speak with someone you really wanted to meet.

DO mingle. If you always sit with the same group of people you are not going to do much networking. No matter how much time you spend chatting with others, make it a point of focusing only one person or group at a time. If you are always looking over their shoulders to see who else is out there, you’re missing the whole idea of connecting in real life. Keep it short if you must, but make it meaningful.

DO plan your schedule ahead of time. Choose the panels and events that you want to attend before the conference starts. Otherwise you will find yourself confused and scrambling. You can’t attend every single panel, and that’s fine. Also, there are some events that require that you RSVP, so don’t forget to do that.

DON’T be late to panels, especially if you are a speaker! It’s a drag when people trickle in late. I’m saying this now, but watch me tiptoe in trying to go unnoticed.

DON’T interrupt, talk over or otherwise disrupt the panels, unless you are asking a question during the Q&A section, if there is one. Manny Ruiz, Hispanicize organizer has made it clear that there will be zero tolerance for interrupting the speakers this year.

DON’T stress! A social media conference should be a fun experience. If it’s your first time, enjoy meeting your online peers. If you’re a conference veteran, you will already know what to do, so try to help out others who are just starting out.

I can’t wait to be there, and if you have any additional tips, please add them at the bottom, in the comments section!