I love going to tech conferences, I love the buzz, the learning, the engagement and the fun. There are a few things you can do to get the best value out of attending a tech conference, keep on reading.
1. Draw a plan and make sure you don’t stick to it
Every self respecting tech conference will have a public program listing all the available sessions, times, locations etc. Well before going you want to read it and identify the talks, workshops, open sessions you want to attend. That’s the easy part.
The measure of how successful your participation to the conference is, is directly proportional to the amount of unplanned sessions you attend. Why do I say that? When you were planning, you were reading a session’s abstract, maybe researching the work of a speaker, but deep inside you needed to trust your intuition believing that what will be at the session is what you expect. The great thing is that once you are at the conference you will be able to ask other people what they think about a speaker, about a specific subject, about other sessions and so on. Use people around you to challenge the assumptions you created while reading the session’s abstracts, discover what you didn’t know you didn’t know with the help of the other conference attendees. Be agile, discover, adapt your plan and act!
2. Ditch your work mates and discover the world
If you are at a tech conference, chances are you are with at least one or two colleagues. Let me ask you a question: do you think you are going to learn more if you stick to your mates and avoid talking to the rest of the people or if you open up and speak as much as possible to the other conference attendees? The answer seems obvious, but you will be amazed by how many little “same company groups” stick together through thick and thin and avoid contact with “the others”. Ask yourself, am I here to learn or to be shy and protected by my team mates? You know the answer, get out there, mix up with people from all over the world, share your experience and and learn from theirs, you will be surprised how many people do great things, yet in a different way from you.
3. Interact with the speakers, they are (mostly) decent human beings and they care
You have been following this guys’ blog posts for years, you’ve read all his books, you have attended 2 other talks he presented in the past and you are inspired by his ideas. Now he is there, having a coffee during a break between sessions and you are there with that “huge question” you have never been able to answer in your mind no matter how many times you reread his books. What do you do?
- Stare in awe and duck if he is looking at you
- Run away before he recognise you from your twitter account picture that has been re-tweeting all his tweets in the last 5 years
- Go there, introduce yourself and ask the “huge question”
Another obvious choice if you want to grow, but make no mistake, most conference attendees do either 1 or 2. I can guarantee that the speaker will be delighted you’re interested, will be flattered by the fact you are familiar with his work and will do everything possible to answer your question and make sure you can put your mind at rest. Here’s the deal, if you do 3 and the speaker treats you badly and embarrasses you because you asked a stupid question, I will buy you a beer.
4. Go to as many open sessions as you can
Be it a “pitch your idea” or a “lean coffee/beer” or a “games session” or any other open session where you can interact with others, please go go go go go! In these sessions you will find people that maybe had an intuition but their idea is still half baked and you can help them discover it, you will be asked to participate and interact with others, you will discover something new that you didn’t know existed and more importantly you will be able to interact with other people in an informal environment. Introduce yourself, ask for names, show interest, talk and listen, listen, listen.
5. Tweet, blog, talk about the interesting session you listened to and the things you learned
Be nice to others, if you learned something valuable, share it with the rest of us, we appreciate it. When tweeting or blogging add the handle of the speaker you are talking about allowing him to interact with you and make your tweet, blog richer and more interesting for everybody.
6. Relax and have the craic
Most conferences are hosted in fancy hotels that have beautiful bars with plenty of tasty fluid. Go to the bar and you will be surprised by the fact that a good 50% of the punters are speakers. For some of them speaking at a conference is their job, talking and interacting with people all day can be stressful, so some of us like to have a drink or two to unwind after all the talks are finished. Join in, bring your pint over to any group of people, speakers, attendees, it doesn’t matter and start talking to them, more than likely you will find out you have something in common with them, after all you are all there for one thing, learning.