Conferences are a huge expenditure of time and money. They are held in huge, impersonal buildings, peopled by hundreds and hundreds of unfamiliar people. The pressure to do conference right can feel overwhelming. But, first and foremost, there is no one “right” way do attending conferences. You need to find a good balance between engaging with ideas, meeting people, and finding space for yourself. Each person has to find their own best way to handle conferences. How do you find your own best way to handle conferences? Here are some tips to help you do that. (Follow the tips, and then notice what feels right).
Plan Ahead: Have some clear objectives in mind before you go. For example, think about a few big topics you know you want to think about. Search the program ahead of time for those topics, and pick a few for your calendar.
Be flexible: The best-laid plans are actually the ones with room to bend. Other than your few must-see talks, allow yourself chances to be swept up in the zeitgeist of the conference. You will hear people talking about talks; try a few of those.
Share: Be open with people and allow them to be open with you. Elevators, hallways, coffee lines are great chance to make a quick bit of connection with a colleague.
Document: Make sure to take notes, however, you naturally do. Twitter stream, hand-written, typed. Whatever you already do, keep doing that. You will be taking in a number of ideas, and you don’t want to be stressed about forgetting them. But, also keep your phone in hand. Sometimes it is easier to snap a shot of ppt slides than to take down notes. Also, remember, you won’t catch everything. Be okay with that. After all, you will be able to find plenty of notes on Twitter and SlideShare.
Relax: Conferences are exhausting. You are on all the time. Even the most extroverted person can feel tired. Find your own ways to get a little break. I always have a half-read book in my kindle app. Any time I need a little me time, it’s there in my phone.
Enjoy: Conferences are work, sure. But they are also a chance to be with scores of people with similar values and interests. Luxuriate in that.