Making the Most out of a Conference

Feb
15
2011

Webstock stuff

I’m sitting here in a hotel, in Wellington, the day before some of the workshops start for Webstock. Which is a conference I have been iching to get to for some time.

Now conferences can be a fantastic events, they can be very stimulating mentallly and socially. You can gain a great deal of insight, new ideas and even an increased depth of professional understanding.

They can also be a complete waste of time. Which one they are is totally up to you. The organisers, can make the conference the best in the world, but the value aspect all comes down to the individual – you.

Picking the Right Conference

The first thing is to pick a conference that will have at least one of two benefits:

  1. The conference is with your peers, or
  2. At least in an aspect of your work that you feel needs improvement or you just want to keep upto date on, or
  3. The conference is centred around a potential client audience.

The later is especially true if you are Freelancing or running your own team. Even more so if you are prepared to speak. For example – if you specialise in Non for Profits or the like, then any conferences centreing around NFP would be a good idea to attend at least once and a while.

Mind you it’s no good going to a developer conference, for instance, if you are a designer, unless you are looking to hook up with some developers, even then I would just recommend you rock up to your local developer meetups instead.

Now you have the right conference selected, it is very important to maxise your investment of your time and money, again especial if you are paying for it yourself.

Remember a conference could be costing you from $100-$150 per hour to attend. And that’s not including lost time and productivity.

There are a number of key things you can do to maximise your time spent at the conference:

Relax

In order to retain the most information it’s important that you relax and don’t stress too much over the latest project or other work matters you have put aside to attend the conference.

Get some Sleep

Okay, we have all been guity of this one, now this is especially important if you are attending workshops, which can often be very intense. Ensure you get a good nights sleep, maybe more than you normally do. You want to be fresh and alert, remember falling asleep in a session is just burning money.

Take Notes

Unless your have a photograpic memory, note taking from the written form, peronsalised shorthand, blogging, twittering or sketch notes is very important. By taking notes you have a higher chance of retaining the information as you process it. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you will have time to review the presentations or audio recordings later, because you won’t.

Review your notes

After you have returned home, or even the evening after you have taken the notes, review them, read over them, remember what the speak said. If your notes are good, you will even be able to picture the speaker delivering the talk.

Share

Share your knowledge from the conference with others. Share your notes with others that attended. Give a talk on what you learnt. I finding having to speak on a topic is a fantastic way to re-enforce what you have just learnt. As you will want to ensure you have all the facts right.

Talk to Strangers

You know those people you sat next to. Did you talk to them during the conference. Did you introduce yourself to them. Striking up a conversation with a complete stranger is hard. However you at least have a common interest, you are in the same session.

Socialise and Network

It’s very important to socialise and network at a conference, often the most insights comes from talking to your peers. It’s true, the best converations are in the corridor. I have often skipped sessions in favour of continuing an in depth discussion with a speaker or a colleague I have just met. Also arrive early, maximise the networking time.

Picking the Right Groups

From my experience I have found, you will find five groups of people in the breaks at conferences. Picking the right group to talk to is critical.

  1. The people that all know each other and will often huddle close and talk in a closed circle, watch for the closed in huddled shoulders. Avoid this group.
  2. The work colleauges that are all talking shop and will instantly go silent the moment a stranger enters the group. Can be hard to break into.
  3. The groups of two people talking, This is often a personal conversation so I wouldn’t interrupt these, ever. The exception here is when one of the people is making visual signs to escape.
  4. The mixed group of people open to strangers joining them, that is not 1 or 2.
  5. And finally the lone person, often they are just shy (like you) so why not approach them and collect a group of them.

Go to Dinner

Like networking in the breaks, a conference often doesn’t have to end after the offical events. Again often the most interesting conversations can happen in the small hours of the morning, drinking coffee on a hotel balcony. Okay this doesn’t work on developer conferences they tend to end as soon as the offical events windup.

Talk to the Speakers

You know what, not a lot of people engage in meaningful conversations with the speakers. Despite some being old hands at the circuit, they are still people too and will often be open to discussing their topic of interest.

Ask Questions

You know people do hold back asking questions at any speaking event. it’s human nature, they don’t want to appear as not knowing the subject or understanding. Asking questions during the session, if time allows, can be critical. As it’s often during these adhoc questions that the speakers will reveal their special gems of wisdom.

Move Session

If the session you are in just isn’t working for you, then get up and move.

Now if you are in the front row this can be a little embarassing, but there are ways of doing it. Better you get the most value out of the conference and goto one of the alternative sessions. What you can do is – fake you mobile ringing (which will be on vibrate) take it, wince, pack and leave. At worst you’ll get a comment from the speaker “about to much work or something”.

Don’t eat too Much

This may seem a little strange, but often at a conference there is a lot of wonderful food, and it’s usally of a very high standard. There is a big temptation to eat lots, espeically at lunch. The result is the after lunch snooze. That’s $100 down the drain.

Travel Badly Arrive Early

If you travel badly and have trouble adjusting to time zones, then I would recommend arriving a few days early to help you settle in. It’s no good arriving at the conference on the red-eye, as by day two you are just going to crash and burn, falling asleep most of the morning or afternoon away.

Hold off on Work

This one can be hard. I’m very guity of this one. Try and reduce your workload leading up to the conference so your focus can be 100% on the conference and the people attending. It’s no good if you’re mind is elsewhere on work and not the conference at hand.

Now I know there are going to do some more points that I have missed,I can just feel they are not all there. So help me out here and just add them below.

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