Tips for Working in Convention Centers

Working in Convention Centers

Written by Terry Matthews-Lombardo

Terry Matthews-Lombardo is an industry veteran meeting planner, trip director, and free-lance writer who’s seen and experienced a lot of challenges – the good, bad, great and ugly – during her professional lifetime spent in this industry. Based in Orlando, FL, she’s been a proud and active member of the GCG Network of planners since 2005. You can read more by Terry in her book, Meetings Mayhem!, or on her blog Terry's World Travels.

February 15, 2024

What’s that you say? NOT your favorite assignment? I totally agree. They’re big, cold, parking can be difficult, and those cement floors? No doubt about it, the back pain from standing on those unforgiving surfaces all day can be real!

But if you’re earning extra money in the world of meetings and events, then you’d best prepare yourself for convention center work. Here are a few tips I’ve gathered over the years, not only from my own experiences, but also from other planners that have learned to survive and thrive in those challenging environments. And yes, some planners do enjoy working in humungous convention centers!

  1. Arrive early. Very early.

Due to their size and spread, at most centers you must park a long walk away from your ultimate destination which is sometimes tricky to find, even when you think you’re close. It’s also good to remember that your start time begins the minute you physically check in onsite with the end client – not when you arrive in the parking garage.

Watch the time to make sure you're early
  1. Get your bearings.

Once you’ve parked and found your ultimate assigned location, make sure you also find the nearest bathrooms and water fountains, not only for your own breaks but believe me, you will be asked many times from your attendees! And while you’re getting familiar with the place, make sure to also locate the closest emergency exit since many times that was not your point of entry, as well as knowing how to get security in a hurry. I mention this because it’s much easier in a hotel to locate a house phone for an easy security connection, but convention centers are cavernous and don’t typically contain as many amenities as you might quickly find in a hotel.

  1. Pack lightly and bring only usable necessities.
Pack Light: pen, pad of paper, glasses, etc.
Small crossbody purse or belt-bag, phone, pad of paper and pen, tissues, throat lozenge or breath mints, sweater or light jacket, maybe a clipboard depending on your assigned duties. Beyond that, you normally don’t have a very good or secure spot to park your personal belongings, so you might get stuck wearing that heavy, overstuffed backpack, possibly even carrying it around throughout your entire assignment. And check with the client at least one day prior as to whether you need to even bring your computer or iPad. Many times, they are not needed for center assignments as you might simply be passing out brochures or booth invites, scanning attendees at the door of an educational session or other simple tasks as assigned by your client.
  1. Wear comfortable shoes!

Have I mentioned how big these places are? Again, if you’ve been doing temp work for any amount of time, you know comfortable shoes are a must no matter where you are working. But centers typically have cement floors, many times without carpeting. Especially if your assignment is actually located inside the exhibit hall. Even the most comfortable shoes can start bringing on foot and leg pain if you’re asked to stand in them for long periods of time. Whenever possible, bring a second pair to change into halfway through the day as that can help with the inevitable pain, too. And if you don’t already know this, make sure they are decent looking. Most clients request no tennis shoes, or at the least they must be all black including the soles, so it’s always good to have a solid pair of comfortable, basic loafers in your business wardrobe.

  1. Plan ahead for food and beverage.

Convention centers can be expensive in that area, so at the least, bring a protein bar and water bottle if you are on a full day assignment. Also ask your client ahead of time as to whether concessions will even be open as that is dependent on the individual trade show or activity taking place.

Bring snacks like protein bars and a water bottle


Overall, the biggest difference between working at a hotel or convention center is the extra time it usually takes to report in for duty and the lack of a secure place to store anything you bring with you. Like all successful planners, make it a point to ask questions ahead of time, organize yourself, and give some thought to assignment-specific things the day before making it easier to show up with a smile on your face and focused for the tasks ahead.

You can hear more from Terry on her blog, Terry’s World Travels, or in her book, Meetings Mayhem!, that chronicles some of the crazy things we encounter in this industry.

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