1️⃣ Above All Else
If you take nothing else away from this post, I hope you may at least consider the following as a framework for how to approach a conference, a meetup, or any other gathering of peers where you plan to learn something.
Learn 3 New Things, and Meet 3 New People
Focus on learning three new things during the event, and on meeting three new people. It’s so simple, and yet, it encapsulates what I think are the most important reasons for attending technical conferences; learning & networking.Learn 3 New Things, and Meet 3 New People Click To Tweet
Now, I didn’t come up with this. I heard this from Yash Prabhu during a conference talk last year, and it “clicked” for me. It aligned perfectly with what I had always tried to do, yet was so simple that it allowed me to articulate those goals more accurately than I could before.
I want to use this as a backdrop for the rest of this post. If the #1 goal is to learn 3 new things and meet 3 new people, then the rest of this post will focus on actionable tips for realizing those two goals.
- Learn 3 new things
- Meet 3 new people
- Plan travel to city/venue/party/etc ahead of time
- Pack appropriately
- Plan for who you want to connect with
- Plan your schedule
- Allow for breaks and free time in your schedule
- Social media can be a great tool for connection and notes
- Share appreciation after the event
- Follow up with new friends/connections
Like many things in life, we can have a more successful conference experience if we prepare ahead of time.
We know what our goals are for the conference, so beforehand, we can make plans that will help us have the best event possible.
Understanding where you are going, and how you are going to get there, can take a lot of stress out of the conference travel process. So, I think it’s a good idea ahead of time to plan out where you are going and how you will get there so there are no surprises on the day of the conference.
Where Are You Going?
Where is the closest airport or train station?
Do you know where your hotel is? Or your AirBnB? Or your friend’s apartment?
Where is the conference venue?
Are you going to any kind of conference party? If so, do you know where it is and how to get here?
How Will You Get There?
Once you know where the important locations are, you’ll want to consider how you are going to travel to, and between, them.
How will you get to your hotel? Taxi? Train? Shuttle? Ride share?
Are there designated drop off and pick up locations?
Is the venue close enough to walk to, or will you need to arrange other transportation? The same goes for the party?
Building connections is one of the best things about attending a conference. However, in all of the excitement it can sometimes be hard to ensure you meet, or catch up with, the people you want to see.
This is another area where I think having a plan beforehand can really help.
Who Do You Want to Connect With?
Think about who it is that you would like to make sure you connect with at the event. It could be a speaker, or an organizer, or a former colleague, etc. If you know they will be there, you can plan to help ensure you connect.
If you get nervous about starting up a conversation, try having some specific questions in mind.
- “You mentioned X in your talk. I’d love to ask you more about that”
- “I see you work at Y. What do you work on there?”
If the notion of walking up to someone out of the blue and starting a conversation sounds a little daunting, you could try scheduling a chance to meet ahead of time.
You could reach out to the person before the conference and set up a time & place to meet while at the event. This ensures you block out time for that person, and takes the pressure off trying to do it during the event. A few examples of this are:
- agree to meet at the conference party
- meet at the coffee/tea station before the first talk
- have lunch together at the event
- meet somewhere for a group photo
Please keep your personal safety in mind as well; especially if meeting someone for the first time. Only agree to meet someone in a place/time you are comfortable with; sticking to the conference venue is a good place for this.
You want to make sure you have the proper supplies available to you to ensure the most enjoyable conference experience. Towards this goal, a little planning ahead of time goes a long way.
What will you need during the conference?
- cell phone charger, batteries, power brick
- business cards
- pens, pencils, notebooks
How will you dress?
- What will the weather be like?
- Will you be walking?
- Do you have other travel/exploration planned during the same trip?
- Will you need sunscreen or a raincoat?
Like any travel, having the proper clothing can make a big difference. Will you need walking shoes? Are you going to need a heavy jacket, or an umbrella? Are you going to be gone for 2 days, or 2 weeks?
Addressing these types of questions will improve the likelihood that you stay comfortable and prepared for the elements during your trip.
Having to stop in the middle of your day to buy new clothes, because you didn’t pack properly, is not fun. I know from experience.
Take a look at the weather forecast ahead of time to get an idea of what the weather will be like. Reach out to locals, or people that have attended the event before, to get recommendations.
It’s a good idea to have a plan for your conference schedule. This can help ensure you attend relevant talks, make the connections you want, and still have time to recharge and stay energized during the event.
Planning Your Schedule
Take a look at the conference schedule once it’s posted. Pay attention to the topics and speakers and take note of anything you know you don’t want to miss. You can then build your schedule around those.
To help focus on the highest priority talks I look at 2 things:
- Which topics are immediately actionable for my current job/project?
- Which topics are most interesting to me personally?
Balancing Your Schedule
I think it’s a good idea to not fill every moment of your schedule. Maybe every talk sounds great; I still think it’s beneficial to leave some gaps in your day to network, explore and rest.
Most talks are recording nowadays, so you will likely be able to catch up on any talks you missed, but you can’t catch up on missed opportunities for things like meeting new people, attending office hours, or chatting with vendors.
I also believe it’s extremely important to recognize how much rest & quiet you need, and then make sure you get that time.
The hustle & bustle of a conference is a lot; especially if you’re an introvert.
There’s nothing wrong with taking time to leave the venue, find a quiet place, and recharge in some way. You should also try your best to get enough sleep. It’s difficult to learn and engage with others if you’re tired or needing some quiet time.
Some events may only have a single type of session to attend, while other events such as Google IO or Microsoft Build may have a variety of ways to fill your time.
It’s a good idea to think about how best to utilize your time at the event.
Have a pressing question for a development team? Then attending office hours might be a better use of your time then a talk.
Looking to get hands on with a particular new device form factor? Visiting a product sandbox might be a good use of time.
Wanting to make additional connection? Events like Google IO often have some kind of community area and host a variety of meetups.
It’s worth building time into your schedule to take in a variety of what your event has to offer. Keep in mind, large events typically record their talks, but you have limited opportunities to meet development teams and get hans-on time with products and demos.
Use The Conference App
If available, using the conference app to plan your schedule is a great idea for a few reasons:
- can plan your schedule
- receive updates/notifications from the conference
- often include directions to the venue, party, hotel, etc
- provide session and conference feedback
- stay up to date on event social media
Sharing the conference experience with others can be an excellent way to get more value out of the event.
Social Media Prep
Engaging with the event via social media can help you meet people, learn new things, take notes, and learn about what’s happening at the event.
If you’re planning on sharing about the conference on social media, then it doesn’t hurt to do a little prep work beforehand.
Look for the relevant social media accounts and follow, bookmark, or otherwise have quick access to those.
Look for, and save, any relevant hashtags for the event so you can mark your posts accordingly and quickly find posts from others.
I like to save a “template” in a separate file that includes the conference account name and 1–2 relevant hashtags that can then quickly be copy/pasted into a new post without having to look them up each time.
Another great way to get more from an event is to share a recap of your experience. I’ll share more about this later, but there are a few prep items I want to mention now.
Having a general outline of how your recap will go can really help when it comes to sharing that information later.
- That recap could be very general: Intro -> Highlights -> Conclusion
- It could focus on a specific topic and all the related things you learned.
- Maybe it focuses on the people you met and their experiences.
Regardless of the format, if you have a plan beforehand, you can create an outline and then fill that outline in during the event. This will help keep your thoughts organized so that when you write or speak about your experience it’s easier to keep things focused.
Having an outline can also help you keep track of any types of pictures, video, notes, or other media you want to be sure to capture and share.
Once you’ve planned, packed, and traveled, it’s time to actually attend the conference.
✏️ Taking Notes
It’s extremely common to take notes when attending a conference, and there is no right or wrong way to take those notes.
Find What Works
What method of note taking will enable you to remember your key takeaways and also leave time and brainpower to meet people and experience other aspects of the conference?There's no right or wrong way to take notes Click To Tweet
When picking your form of note taking, consider how to best maximize your ability to act on what you’ve learned. And keep in mind, most talks are recorded so you will be able to revisit them if you miss something.
It’s often possible to find notes from others on social media as well which can help you build your collection of actionable takeaways.
Note Taking Options
There are many ways to take notes, and it’s a good idea to experiment and find what works best for you. To help get you started, here is a non-exhaustive list of forms of note taking I’ve seen at various conferences.
- Pen & Paper
Remember, there is no right or wrong way to take notes. If it helps you remember and still enjoy the rest of the event, go for it 👍.
👥 Making Connections
Meeting people, making, and building connections is my favorite part of attending a conference.
It’s also sometimes the most challenging part of attending an event because it requires us to sometimes step outside our comfort zone.
So what can you do to make that process easier?
How do you best meet people?
Think about how you most naturally meet and interact with new people
Are you an introvert?
- schedule times to meet people before the event
- have questions prepared to help break the ice
- focus on having more 1:1 interactions rather than in large groups
Are you an extrovert ?
- morning breakfast or the party are great chances to meet lots of people
- arrive early and/or stay late to maximize opportunities to connect
If you can buy, or collect, some stickers to give away people are usually pretty excited to come meet you and get free stickers 🙂
It’s also possible to meet people via social media and then connect in person while at the event. This can help you find people outside of your existing circle, and can take some of the stress out of introducing yourself.
You can follow the conference account or hashtag, browse others’ posts, start conversations, or even organize impromptu meetings.
One example could me to tweet about taking a group photo in front of the conference mascot. Anyone that shows up will then be invested in the group interaction and you can more easily make those connections.
⚡️ Recharge When Needed
It can be very easy to wear yourself out during a conference. You want to avoid this as much as possible though so you can stay fresh and engaged for learning and networking.
How, then, can you recharge?
Don’t Do Everything
You don’t have to attend every single talk, workshop, party, etc. Give yourself permission to take some space when needed.
Step away to find some quiet time.
Go back to your hotel for a quick nap.
Skip a talk so you can have cup of coffee and reorganize your thoughts.
Leave the party early so you can get some sleep.
Be honest about your personal needs, and do what is necessary to stay fresh and to continue enjoying the event.
👏 Sharing Appreciation
After the event, I think it’s a great idea to show your appreciation to the organizers, volunteers, speakers, sponsors, etc that helped make the event possible.
It’s a lot of work to put on a large event, and so much of it goes unseen.
By reaching out, whether it’s in person or on social media, you are letting those people know how much you appreciate what they did. This gratitude goes a long way towards helping organizers feel the event was a success and to help motivate them to continue putting in that hard work.
🗣 Sharing What You Learned
Once the event is over, it’s useful to organize your thoughts and think back on what you learned.
A great way to do this is by sharing what you learned with others.
This could be in the form of a blog post, or vlog, meetup talk, or anything else that helps you share the event with others. This not only helps you organize your thoughts, but it often leads to interesting followup questions and discussion which then increases the value you get from attending an event.
If you’re sharing what you learned with others, this also then allows you to build connections and expand your support network. You might go on to then apply that knowledge in your existing teams and projects, or perhaps take on new challenges with new people.
Organizers also appreciate you sharing positive things about the event because it’s great promotion for future events.
Conference Recap Blog Post
A conference recap blog post is an awesome way to share what you’ve learned from an event. It’s also probably the easiest way to get started.
Throughout the event, take notes of a few of the highlights. These could be favorite talks, things you’ve learned, people you meet. Then, once it’s over, add those items to a blog post and give a little detail of why each thing stuck out to you. Throw in a couple of pictures from the event, and you have a great summary that is very personal to your experience and a great resource for others to learn about the event.
Here are a few examples of recap posts:
Check out this blog post from Chiu-Ki Chan for more on creating a conference recap post.
Local meetups are a great place to share about an event you’ve recently attended. You could reach out to the organizers of related events and ask if you could give a short lightning talk about what you learned.
This in person format is great, because it’s an opportunity to meet more people and start discussions related to what you learned. If enough time has passed, it’s likely that the slides from most talks will be available online and possibly even the talk recordings, so you could include these resources in your lighting talk to make it easier for others to find information they are interested in.
Conference Recap Vlog
If you want to try something a little different, you could create a vlog of your conference experience. This can be a bit more work, but also allows you to better share the personality of the event by adding video and audio to your thoughts.
A simple way to start is to take a few photos, some video shots of the venue, and then record yourself talking about the three new things you learned. After a little editing, you’ll have a very unique recap of the event told through your perspective.
Here are a few examples of conference recap vlogs I’ve done:
📲 Stay In Contact
Once an event is over, be sure to stay in contact with the people you meet. Connect on social media or exchange business cards. If they are local, make plans to meet at a future event. Do something to continue building that relationship.
Future events become more enjoyable when you know more people. Those relationships may also lead to exciting new opportunities such as organizing your own event. You’ll also be able to leverage your new connections to collaborate or help solve problems down the line.
🖥 Apply What You’ve Learned
Lastly, it’s important to actually put into use the things you’ve learned. This will help you solidify what you’ve learned, and also helps justify the event to employers that may or may not be paying for future events.
When you sit down to apply what you’ve learned, you’ll also come up with new questions which you can then share with the new connections you’ve made or maybe even with a particular speaker. These then become great opportunities to continue engaging with the developer community and for continued learning opportunities.