After attending more than fifteen conferences in the last six years my friends and I accumulated lots of good tips and tricks to make those events more pleasurable and productive, today I am sharing the collective wisdom.
When you have decided on which conference you are keen to attend ask around at your workplace before buying a ticket as there might be some special deals. You might find more people to attend and apply for group discount or your company might be sponsoring the event and have some special discounts.
The most important piece of preparation is to get as much information about the venue and event beforehand. If you are travelling from another city to the conference, try to pick the hotel as close to the venue as possible, ideally in the same building. This will reduce amount of things you need to pack and carry with you on the day. When you pack your luggage, make sure you leave extra space for swag. And bring your business cards if you have some.
When you are planning your travel to the venue take into account the traffic on the way and try to use public transport where possible. On the first day you need a backpack or tote bag for t-shirts, stickers, notepads and other goodies from sponsors. On all conference days pack a refillable water bottle to stay hydrated.
Don’t rely on the free wi-fi and download all the things you need to your mobile or laptop. Some events have mobile app or website with useful info. Finally don’t rely on the free coffee — usually it is not very good and you will have to spend lots of time in the queue, so find a good coffee shop nearby.
Visit sponsors booths and sign in into draws for various prizes, you might win a drone or game console. Have an email address which you don’t care much about prepared, so you won’t be overwhelmed by marketing spam after the event. Pay a visit to the sponsors booth on the last day after lunch as well, most of them will be packing up their stalls and would be happy to get rid of extra swag, you can always share it with your colleagues.
Do some research about speakers, watch their youtube videos to find out about their presentation style, check their github profile, find out more about their current job and how it might relate to you. When choosing talks to attend try to ignore catchy titles and pay attention to the speakers. A good speaker will make boring subject fun and entertaining! If you haven’t done your research beforehand, you can just follow the crowd, most of the other attendees will already know good speakers. If there is a lightning talks stream or pecha kucha it is definitely worth checking out, usually presenters have only 5 minutes and most of the talks should be straight to the point.
Unless the talk is packed, try to pick a seat at the back and have some free seats around you, so you can leave your things and have a comfortable space to take notes. Take notes even if you don’t plan to read them afterwards, it will help you to memorize ideas better. Don’t feel guilty to leave a boring talk after it has started, you will be much better off if you spend this time by talking a walk outside or just grabbing extra cup of tea. Sometimes the most interesting parts of a conference happen in the hallway between talks.
During the breaks be active, go for walk, do some stretching or squads. Don’t eat sugary snacks, even if you feel tired — physical activity will help you to be more alert in much better way than sugar. You can invite other people for a short walk around the block with you!
Talk to someone you didn’t know before, a conference is an amazing opportunity to meet new people in your industry. Give personal feedback to speakers, but only if it is positive. They might be tired or very nervous, so some of them might get very upset after your constructive feedback, be mindful.
Most conferences will have at least one social event, usually including alcoholic drinks. If you are going to consume alcohol make sure you have proper meal before you do. Remember, you are still representing your company and yourself, drink responsibly! It is good opportunity to meet organizers as well, give them your feedback about event, ask them about future events.
When you return back to work, share your experience with you colleagues via a blogpost, brown bag or lightning talk. Don’t forget to keep your travel receipts (Taxis, Ubers, train tickets etc) and claim your per diems!