Originally posted in the Project Dogfood Website. You should check it out
So you have decided to go to a conference. Maybe you got an invite in the mail or clicked on a banner. Maybe a blogger you like mentioned a show they were going to, or were speaking at, or even organizing (thanks @ChrisBrogan).
You drop some hard-earned cash (whether yours or your boss’) on a conference pass. You checked out the conference agenda, picking out the sessions and breakouts and BoF and parties you wanted to attend. You might have looked at the attendees list (if available), seeing who else in your industry, or region or field of interest is also attending.
With conferences now being net-casted on UStream, decks SlideShared, presentations LiveBlogged and Twittered and Utterli’d, why are you going? The content, the data, the decks, the presentations are all, for the most part available. Chris Pirillo, who runs Gnomedex, UStreams and the archives all of the sessions at Gnomedex. IT Conversations business model was the sharing of conference content (pay to get it right away or wait a couple weeks to download it).
The point of going to a conference is to meet people, to engage, to share your ideas not just consume someone else’s deck. Up until 14 years ago, there was an information imbalance between those who have the information about a subject or topic and those of us who wanted to know more. Conferences were meant to give people a chance to meet and share in real time and real space. Sure there were research papers, monographs, journals and books, but they were physical-world artifacts – you had to have them or have access to them.
It was gatherings/conferences/symposia that transformed affinity to community.
So here are my tips for How NOT to Get The Most Out Of A Conference:
1. Don’t approach this as YOUR Conference. You paid, you travelled to get there, you showed up, you are in attendance, and if you really dont want to get the most out of it, then good for you. You get out of it what you put into it… so give the bare minimum and get just that in return! Rock On!
2. Don’t spend the time to find out who else is going to your conference. Don’t use Summize to see who else is mentioning or going to the show (even though hashtags are wonky doesnt mean you cant track the #conference tag). Don’t check UpComing.org, the Conference website or the blogs of the speakers list. Don’t ping the people in your personal network who are also going. Dont make a list of people you want to meet at the show (I have a bunch of folks who I only know thru twtter that I want to meet at New Marketing Summit).
3. Don’t plan your conference experience. Spending time reviewing and understanding the agenda and looking at who is speaking and when is a great way to make sure you miss something you might enjoy or worse, NEED for your job/business/love of the game. Not preparing will result in lots of “session envy” when you find out how much more fun those guys in the other room had.
4. Don’t bother checking out the blogs and sites of the speakers… it helps you determine which are the sessions you want to attend and where the “gold” is at a given show, especially when you are at a multi-track conference – and no one wants that.
5. Don’t be a critical member of the audience. Don’t bother to ask yourself “is this a pitch” when looking at a conference agenda (at some shows the presenters are up there because their company is footing the bill for the mixer or coffee bar or SWAG bag). Be afraid to “vote with your feet” and walk out on a lame/boring/abusive session/speaker. God forbid you look impolite to people you wont bother to talk to.
6. Don’t participate. Don’t feel comfortable enough to ask questions. Be afraid to challenge the masters of the universe on the stage, especially when you disagree or they say something stupid. Make sure you put these folks on a pedestal, even though they are only human. Chris Brogan, Chris Pirillo and Dave McClure all put on some pretty incredible events and always take the time to talk to and appreciate the folks who show up. But you shouldnt approach them. Uh, uh. No way. Most importantly DONT thank or ask questions of the speakers/panelists after their session. They hate that (they dont want to be there either).
7. Don’t mingle. If you can get most of the content elswhere on the web in the comfort of your boxer shorts, why bother going to a show? Especially when 80% of the experience at a conference is the PEOPLE. Don’t spend time in the hallways between sessions. Don’t walk the floor, meeting people, introducing yourself. Don’t make small talk, trade business cards, join BoF discussions. If at all possible, spend as much time at a conference checking your email, answering voicemail messages, polishing your camera lenses and downloading music from iTunes. DO NOT, under any circumstances try to talk to anyone.
If you DONT want to get the most out of your conference experience, then follow the simple tips above. If you WANT to get the most out of the conference, do the exact opposite:
Prepare for the show, read the agenda, pick your sessions, get to know the speakers blogs, ask questions, talk to people, take notes and share them via your own blog and twitter/utterli/etc…
If you really want a black-belt in Conference-Fu, keep an eye out for the wallflowers and shy folks who are keeping to themselves or aren’t going out of their comfort zone- and introduce yourself/say “hi”/introduce them to someone else. Pay it forward.
Take ownership of your conference experience. And plan to have some fun.