How do you get the most out of a tech conference?

How do you get the most out of a tech conference?

I've been to a ton of conferences, as a speaker, a trainer and an attendee. Most of the conferences in our industry are top notch - I've been inspired, I've learned and I've created many fantastic friendships.

Conferences can be expensive, so when you do go to one, make sure you make the most of it. Here are a few things I've learned that you can use to maximize your learning and meet some of the best people in our industry.

Get on Twitter a few days before

Buzz around the event starts to grow and you can often start to familiarize yourself with others going to the event. Read up on anyone who you would like to specifically meet so you have something to talk about. I often get "Hey — thanks for your flexbox/sublime text/whatever tutorial - it really helped me." and its such an easy way for both of us to launch into a comfortable conversation.

Grab lunch with Speakers

If you live in the area of the conference - see if any of the speakers want to grab lunch or dinner the day before the conference. More often than not, the speakers are in a foreign city corralled in their hotel room. They are going to order room service anyways, so you might as well extend the gesture and see if they want to grab a bite to eat. I've made many friendships and have gotten some of the best consulting work of my career this way.

Meet everyone!

Many conference talks are streamed online, so why even attend? A huge part of a conference is in the people that you will meet - for many this is the primary reason of attending.

I often find that people come off a little sour, or aggressive, online and upon meeting them in person they are the kindest people I've ever met. If you are intimidated by some of these larger figures in our space, just remember they are regular people and are probably as shy as you are — here are a few tips on how to do that...

Stay off your phone during breaks and meals!

This is probably the hardest thing and I catch myself pretending to look at my phone all the time. It's awkward, but bite your tongue and say Hi to someone else who is milling around. Most people at conferences don't know anyone, we're all in the same place.

Go to the conference parties 🎉

Good conferences make sure the music is low/off and there are non-alcoholic drinks available for anyone who doesn't drink. This is a fantastic opportunity to meet tons of other developers in a short amount of time.

This goes for speakers as well 😐

Sometimes we see little posses of speakers do their own thing and it bums me out. As silly as it may seem, many of the attendees really look up to you are dying you meet you.

Wear your name badge with style

You might think it's lame, but it's the best way to have people remember your name or even make the connection to your twitter account. Some name badges have a habit of flipping over - make sure yours is pointing the right way because everyone sneaks a peak at your name when you join a group.

Ask good questions

What do you do doesn't cut it - we're all devs. What are you working on? What was your favourite talk? What did you think of Ember? Ask questions that will open up the conversation.

These are some of the smartest people in our industry - imagine what would happen if everyone met each other?!

Sit with random people for lunch 🍔

Is this spot taken — do you mind if I sit here? The answer is always "No - it's all yours! I'm ____ - nice to meet you!"

Invite others to lunch

If you are going out for lunch, put out a call on twitter for anyone to join you. There is nothing more sad than seeing a McDonalds full of people wearing their conference lanyards sitting by themselves.

I'll always be the poutine pied piper at conferences here in Toronto.

Lunch Topic Tables

Sometimes conferences will have lunch topic tables dedicated towards certain topics - jump into one of those or even organize your own the week before by tweeting. This always goes over well.

Practice your break away.

After a while conversations grow stale and it's time to meet new people. Getting trapped is easy, mastering your out is key. As Jerry Seinfeld would say there is no better way to dismiss someone by saying "it was so nice to meet you".

Jump into conversations

If there is someone you would like to meet or a group you would like to join, just jump in with a "Hey I heard you talking about React - I hope you don't mind if I jump in." When there is a small lull, do the rounds of "Hey - I don't think we have met, have we?". Often when I do this, I find out that at least half the circle doesn't know each other and it's a chance for everyone to meet each other.

On the flip side, if you sense someone lurking at the side of your conversation, pause your conversation, be a human and say Hi!

Ask who should I meet?

I think this one is from Tim Ferris, but I've found many successfully have used it. When you are breaking away from a conversation - just ask them who you should meet next. It's easy when you can walk up to someone and say "Hey - Sarah said we should meet - just wanted to say hi!".

Say Hi to the speakers

They aren't rock stars and more often than not they don't know anyone and are a ball or nerves on top of that because of their talk the next day. It's so easy to ask about their talk. I know I love to get asked about my talk because it gives me a chance to dry run some of the ideas and I often pick up valuable insights from the questions/responses I get.

Take notes / visual sketches

I don't do this, but I know many find it a fantastic way to pay attention. Report back to your team or write a post summing up the conference. The best way to solidify something to yourself is to explain it to others.

Here are some great examples from #fronteers15

Watch Twitter

All events will have a hashtag where you can follow along with the chatter. This is a great opportunity to get more context for the talk as well as find & follow some really great people in the industry.

Be as open minded as possible

Check any preconceptions at the door. I could link you to 2013 JSConf where everyone was bashing this stupid idea for a JS framework called React. Conferences are about new ideas and changing the way we work — give everything a chance before going all negative nancy on the talk.

Choose at least one thing to put into practice immediately afterwards.

I'm always jacked up on some sort of technology after a conference. Choose something that you can immediately put into practice and keep that momentum going!

Plan ahead!

A schedule will keep you focused on the important talks/events - especially if there are multiple tracks going on at once.

Read the code of conduct.

Most conferences will have a code of conduct. Read it and treat everyone with respect.

Say thank you to the organizers

Running a conference is often a thankless job that takes months and months of work. The organizers are often volunteers and are doing it for the industry. A written note or even an email goes a long way.

Watch Twitter for a few days after

There is a steady stream of links, tweets, conversations and slide decks the few days following the conference. It's a great time to tweet at speakers telling them how much you enjoyed their talk as well as find your new friends that you met at the conference on twitter.

Make the most of it!

Hopefully you learned a few new tips that will make your next conference even more enjoyable. We have an amazing community filled with some of the best people I've never met - make sure to make the most of it!

Big thanks to Peter Peerdeman for the photos used in this post!

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