10 Ways to Maximize Your Conference Experience

I've been a conference attendee, speaker, advisory board member and organizer. Each of those four roles has taught me something. I'd like to share a little bit with you so you can make the most of your conference experience.

Point 1: Introduce yourself by name. A lot.

Introduce yourself by name to everyone. Even to people you know, or who you think should know you. The biggest opportunity you have at a conference is to network. The number 1 reason behind failed networking is your name. People may choose not to greet you or connect with you because they are embarassed they've forgot your name. No one will think you are weird if you say, "Hi, I'm Dan Wilson". (Unless your name ISN'T Dan Wilson, that is).

Point 2: Expect good things to happen, tolerate mistakes

As a conference attendee, you should expect a well run conference. However, you should also strive to be tolerant when things go wrong. The people behind the scenes have been busting their tails for months to coordinate a million little details and want you to have the best experience possible. If something goes wrong, it will get fixed. Especially if you are nice about it.

Point 3: Stop checking your emails

Sure, in a 1 hour presentation, there are plenty of opportunities for distraction. However, if you have your face buried in your email, you are missing out on something good. Email is asynchronous communication, leverage it!

Point 4: Be realistic about what you can learn

In a one hour session, you probably have the ability to remember 3 things on a surface level. Thus, take notes about what you are interested in so you can google later.

Point 5: Ask for slide decks

Pretty much every presenter will share their slide deck. Sometimes you'll remember great things from looking at the slides... this should augment, not supplant your own note taking.

Point 6: Give honest and fair feedback

As an attendee, you have the right to give feedback to speakers and conference organizers. This DOES include positive and negative feedback. While no one really likes negative feedback, professionals learn from it and want bare opinions. You paid to be there, you have the right to voice your opinions. Choose whichever medium you are comfortable with.

Point 7: Take a chance

For fun, attend a session you know nothing about. You might find something really interesting!

Point 8: Pitch in where you can

While conference organizers love feedback in any form, what they love most are people who will chip in and help. This could be as simple as folding T-Shirts or making an introduction to a new sponsor... Or just stopping by and saying how much you enjoy the conference.

Point 9: Make friends.

You've got plenty of opportunities to meet people who are interested in the sorts of things you are interested. Make friends, some of those friendships will be very valuable to you.

Point 10: Get plugged in

If you enjoyed the material and the environment, get into the stream. Join a local user group. If there is no local user group, start one. There is strength in numbers.

Have any pointers I missed? Share them in the comments!

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5/20/10 10:32 AM # Posted By Ben Nadel

Excellent list! To build on Make Friends and Introduce yourself a lot, one thing that I try to do is sit down at tables where I don't know many people. For example, at lunch, I try to get my food and sit down at a table with a bunch of people I don't know (and usually some that I do). I find this is a great way of 1) meeting new people and 2) making others feel welcome.

5/20/10 11:34 AM # Posted By Sandra Clark

I'd add one more.

After a talk, a lot of people usually try to come up to the speaker to ask questions, etc. Unfortunately, that clutters the room for the next speaker. I usually announce that I will meet people outside the room after my talks and answer any questions. It lets me get out of the room more quickly, frees up the room for the next speaker and allows me to very fully answer whatever questions anyone has of me.

5/20/10 11:38 AM # Posted By RogerTheGeek

I like your list. I have been to many conferences and events in technology, science, art and crafts, and others over the years. One of the most important preparations is to sit down with the schedule and map out your priorities. This can be very important when there are many tracks and concurrent sessions. The first woodturning symposium I went to had eleven concurrent sessions and a number of special events happening all over a giant conference center and hotel over three days. I wasn't prepared and spent a lot of time figuring out my plan at the last minute while dodging 1,500 big, burly dudes in plaid shirts. That didn't work.
Study and make your plan of action ahead of time since everything seems to start happening all at once when you get to the venue.
Now, I mark up the schedule and study the maps to get my bearings. I also have a fall back for each session if I have made an error. There is no problem getting up and moving to another session if you find out you have make a mistake.

5/21/10 8:21 PM # Posted By Josh Curtiss

Amen to all of these, but especially #3.

5/22/10 1:59 AM # Posted By Michael Evangelista

good list, Dan ~ making plans for my first CFunited, coming up before we know it, and though I know there will be some hefty content to absorb, more than anything I'm looking forward to meeting long time friends in person, and making new ones, too. From past experience, I've tried to stay up late, meet people after hours, whatever it takes to create a few fun 'off topic' moments between long days of tech talk - those are the things I end up remembering, when the finer points of all the lectures fade away.

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