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Confessions of a Conference Attendee

I finished my 2019 conference slate late last week. All told, these were my numbers.

It was a whirlwind year, and it prompted me to write down some advice. Know that this may not apply to everyone, but hopefully one or two of these points will be helpful to you.

I attend talks on topics I don't know

Over time I've found that I gain the most from conferences talks introducing me to new ideas or technologies. Advanced talks exist! But for me, if I'm going to dive deeper into something I already know, I'd rather a workshop or more hands-on experience.

With new topics, I get the chance to learn enough to come back to it later. It can be something I want to use in my personal development efforts or a tool I can tuck away to recommend to someone later. And by focusing on talks surrounding new tools and technologies I'm never in danger of attending a talk that is a review of things I already know.

I match lunch to my mood

Lunch at conferences can be one of your best opportunities to meet other attendees and speakers, talk informally, and network. And that's wonderful! But there are some days where I've hit the hallway track hard and I'm not in a great mental state to do more chatting.

That's why I match lunch to my mood. If I'm feeling social? Awesome! I'll attend the conference lunch! If not? That's a great chance to go down the street, take a break, and grab something else to eat. And sometimes I need something in the middle. So I'll go down the street with a friend :)

I publicize where I am!

I'm active on twitter! I'm also on DEV. I've found that putting the name of the conference I'm attending in my bio is really valuable. I often get the chance to meet people I've interacted with in the virtual world. People will message me to let me know they're also attending and we make plans to meet up.

Another benefit of this is people get the opportunity to learn about events that may want to attend next year.

Vendor halls can be a black hole

Vendor halls are awesome if you're looking for a job. They can be great if your project uses or is thinking about using a technology represented. And overall they're fun to walk around in. But they can also be a huge time suck.

Before you know it you've missed two sessions because you got caught in a number of conversations. This isn't a bad thing! But it's something you want to commit to knowingly. Decide what is the best use of your time, what your priorities are, and go from there.

I'll add that sponsors are a big reason conferences can offer scholarships or even run in the first place. So I love supporting the vendors. And I always spend some time walking through that area.

I try not to grab much swag

Swag is super fun. Companies are coming up with all kinds of new and different things. It's great to get some stuff to bring home! But after my first few events, I noticed that grabbing swag is like a shopping high. Everything looks fun and then you get home realizing you have a whole bunch of new knick-knacks.

So be intentional about it. You might not need that new water bottle. Maybe if they're out of your size in the shirt it isn't worth getting this time. You don't have to grab everything, I promise. Unless it's stickers. Always grab the stickers. You can trade/share them later!

And so much more

There are so many other conference takeaways I have from this year. But many of them are from the perspective of a speaker! So look out for that post next week.

And if you have any insights about being a conference attendee throw them in the comments section. I'd love to hear them.

Top comments (12)

kaleigh profile image

So true about the swag! I realized how insane I was about it when I traveled for a conference for the first time (using only a carry-on) and realized how much of what I got I didn't want! Stickers and pens are much easier to travel with than...literally anything else. ๐Ÿ˜‚

lynngineer profile image

I just got back from my first conference (reinvent) and they had swag donation boxes scattered about, including in the hotels, which was brilliant. All that swag people changed their mind about or ran out of room for, was donated. :)

kaleigh profile image

That's really cool!

ferricoxide profile image
Thomas H Jones II

Sounds like you get a lot more use out of conferences than I ever did. Ultimately, unless I'm presenting, I avoid them &ndash especially larger ones or ones that don't offer small seesions โ€“ like the plague. I get too frustrated when I can't ask questions or, if questions are never usefully answered. A lot less frustrating reading good documentation.

laurieontech profile image

I think it really depends what job you do, what your conference goals are, and what the conference is. As a learning only tool it may not be effective for you!

ferricoxide profile image
Thomas H Jones II

I'm a deep in the weeds kind of person, even when things are notionally brand-new to me. Basically, if a presentation trips the "this seems like <thing_im_already_familiar_with>" circuit, I immediately want to know "how is <new_thing> different when dealing with <rabbit-hole_thing>". When I'm reading something, if such an event is triggered, gratification is generally a quick Google search away. If I'm at a presentation, the combination of having to wait to ask a question โ€“ which, if I even get the chance to ask โ€“ invariably results in receiving the "why do you have three heads" look.

Patience has never been a strong-suit, for me, particularly when it comes to learning.

phoebegoh profile image

It's pleasing to see that vendors are moving towards less swag that's just going to end up in landfill - either by having things that are really actually useful or just saying 'we're donating to a charity instead - come talk to us because you want to, not because you want free stuff'.

I think being intentional about everything - whether it's attending sessions, meeting/networking (I really enjoy that and sometimes regret not making enough time to meet people), or just calling it early and realising that I need a break... is the best way to really enjoy a conference! So great advice!

I also try to make notes the day of an event vs trying to remember what happened a week later.. hahahaha. All the sessions blur into one...

sunitk profile image
Sunit Katkar

This is from the early 2000s. At that time XML was the rage and there were so many conferences in San Francisco Bay area where one of the topic would inevitably be about XML and SOAP and what have you. It was as if you had to have XML as part of your solution otherwise you were not really doing it right!

I attended 2 of them and realized that most folks who do not really have anything to do with the actual work of implementing XML in their organisation were organizing these conference :) Most of it was all hot air and vapor ware.

In those days, so many conferences were just hot air and nothing of substance as such in terms of presentation and subject matter expertise.

Haven't been to one after that till date. Maybe things have changed.

tvanantwerp profile image
Tom VanAntwerp

Socks are the best swag by far. I always get conference socks when available.

I rarely go to conference lunches just because it's always the same generic sandwich wrap. If I'm traveling, I try to find somewhere really interested to go have lunch instead. Last conference I went to, I skipped the conference lunch and got pulled pork BBQ instead!

BBQ, okra, hush puppies, and other artery cloggers.

daveskull81 profile image
dAVE Inden • Edited

Great post. These are some good tips. I really like how you point out to go into the vendor area aware of the time you will spend there. I think approach of doing things intentionally is a great idea and probably would help someoneโ€™s entire conference experience. Being specific about what one wants to get out of conference and thinking about it before hand is a great way to make sure the time and effort is worth it. Thanks!

fly profile image

'I attend talks on topics I don't know'
Definitely something I didn't realize I should be doing.

awwsmm profile image
Andrew (he/him)

I saw your tweet but didn't realise you were on DEV, too! Followed!