So why attend a conference? Let’s start with education. You’ll learn more from attending one conference than all the books and blog posts you can read in one month. This may sound like a tall order, but seriously, if you are actively listening to the presenter, it’s hard not to learn more than by simply being there.
Secondly, the fact that you are there in person (as opposed to, say, listening to a podcast) means that you participate in the full experience; non-verbal cues (such as body language or facial expressions), as well as presentation slides and Q&A sessions that are normally cut from the podcast, are all factors that can make a session more rewarding, and provide valuable insights too.
Then there’s the networking. Some may derisively call it schmoozing, however, this is a very important benefit of conferences that should not be underestimated. The contacts that you can make by grabbing a meal or a coffee during a break can be worth the cost of the conference alone. I’ve won at least $50,000 worth of business just by attending the last two Web Directions South conferences–and that’s without even really trying!
I’ve also found that by socializing with the presenters, I learn more about their areas of expertise than by just watching them on stage. I’ve become friends with a few speakers as a result, and have regular email dialogue now with my international contacts.
So how can you benefit the most from attending a conference? Here are seven tips:
- Gain as much advance notice of the schedule as you can. Normally, with more than one stream, you’ll need to make some decisions–which presentations to watch and which ones to miss. You’ll want to read up on the presentation topics to ensure you make the best choices. Bring along a list of your preferred schedule to avoid missing an important session.
- Make contact beforehand with other delegates you know personally. If you’re going by yourself, you can arrange to meet for coffees and not feel so isolated. If you don’t know anyone attending, you might like to introduce yourself on the conference blog, or alternatively, search the blog posts for other like-minded attendees and arrange to meet up with them.
- Stay for the whole conference. Don’t get the day two doldrums and skip sessions. It goes without saying that the presentation you miss will be the one everyone raves about afterwards.
- Don’t be hesitant to ask questions. If they don’t cater for question time during the presentation, seek out the presenter at the break and ask them; you’ll be amazed at how approachable they are.
- Schmooze. You’ll meet loads of new people at the social events that accompany these conferences, who may eventually become friends, colleagues, employers, or clients. Be genuine though, and don’t set out to “work the room.”
- Buy the book. If they are selling books, get hold of the ones you believe you’ll benefit most from, and get them signed whilst you’re there. It’s a great souvenir of the conference and a valuable education tool as well.
- Find accommodation in the conference’s vicinity. You don’t want to be traipsing across a busy city every day, and you’ll probably need to charge that laptop or digital camera every so often.
This post first appeared as part of Issue 414 of the SitePoint Tribune, a very popular email newsletter that I was co-editor of. Thanks to SitePoint for allowing me to reproduce the work here.