Advice for First Time RNC Convention Attendees

An estimated 50,000 politicians, delegates, operatives, volunteers, and members of the media are preparing to make the trek to Tampa, FL for the 2012 Republican National Convention. For a first-timer, like myself, the whole thing can seem a daunting experience, so I turned to some convention veterans for advice on surviving the GOP’s big week.

Before You Arrive

Preparation is key. Katie Harbath, Manager of Public Policy at Facebook, suggests that attendees “start asking around now about what events are happening and what contacts of yours have tickets. Go down to Tampa with a few tickets ahead of time, but also be asking around once you get down there.”

“Rest up this weekend,” warns the Young Guns Action Fund’s Brad Dayspring “because you are not going to get much sleep between Monday and Friday – nor will you want to once you are there.”

Mindy Finn, of Twitter and a veteran of the 2004 and 2008 conventions, advises first-timers to “travel light — pack your phone and/or tablet in your bag when you head out for the day, leave your computer at the hotel.”

Speaking of Twitter, Dayspring (@BDayspring) recommends building out a convention Twitter list before you arrive. The list should be made up of “journalists, staffers, Members, politicos, and VIPs. You’ll be able to quickly find out where the cool kids are, where the fun is, and where the unexpectedly fun events are happening.”

Once You’re There

Flexibility will get you far in Tampa. Kristen Soltis, Vice President at the Winston Group, recalls that for her, “the most exciting things that happened at the convention were totally by chance.”

According to Finn, “You can only plan so much from afar. Details for, and invites to, events will materialize once you are on the ground. Chance meetings will be more frequent than plans to rendezvous for networking purposes.”

There’s a lot going, but “pace yourself,” advises Harbath. ”Don’t forget to eat, drink plenty of water and don’t try to make it to everything.”

John Feehery, President of QGA Communications and a veteran of five conventions, cautions against a major first-time mistake, “don’t get stuck in a volunteer job that keeps you working well past midnight.”

The Parties

“The action at convention,” says Feehery “is what happens outside the convention hall.”

Tickets to the larger parties with well-known bands are hard to come by, but “don’t worry about the big events,” says Soltis. “Just keep your eyes open for neat opportunities!”

With literally hundreds of events happening outside the official program, “don’t try to do too much,” advises Finn. “Pick 1-2 events per night.”

And while it may seem like one giant party, “this isn’t Spring Break,” counsels Dayspring. “Remember that every Republican in Tampa in some small way represents the Romney/Ryan campaign.”

Lastly, a bit of sartorial advice from Dayspring: “Gentlemen, bring an extra tie, because you are going to stain yours. Ladies, avoid the guys walking around with stained ties, they’ve likely had too much to drink.”

See you in Tampa.

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