At Bazaarvoice it’s policy that we send our developers to at least one major tech conference of their choice each year. Since we’re based in Austin TX, that usually means flying across the country. The costs (flights, hotel, transport, food) are substantial, but the opportunity cost is even higher. I’ve always been thankful for the opportunity to go to great conferences, and thought I’d share a few tips for getting the most out of the experience.
1. Get a good seat. There’s no point in being at the conference if you can’t hear the speaker and see the content on the slides. Unfortunately many stages don’t have screens large enough for people at the back to read the words. Or they’ve positioned the screen too low, and you find yourself silently cursing those tall-hair people.
I’m at the Dublin Web Summit right now, and the screen in the room where they’re hosting the Developer Track is both too small and too low. Fortunately I was here 20 mins early and managed to get a great second row seat.
2. Find out who’s there you’d like to speak with. I’m not necessarily referring to the headline speakers. Here at the Dublin Web Summit there are 100+ European startups pitching their businesses. Last night I took the time to quickly investigate if any of these are interesting to me or Bazaarvoice. There were a few that I found intriguing (EVRYTHNG, TicTail, Syndicate Plus, Seedrs, etc). In 10 minutes of face-time with one of the founders of these businesses I can investigate what they’re really up to, where they are with the business, and the challenges they’re facing. I was able to chat with several of these companies. A couple others weren’t at their booth space when I was free. Maybe next time I’ll take advantage of those apps that these conferences are touting for making introductions.
3. Bring a small notepad and pen. Supplying 200-1000 tech-savvy people in a room with working Internet and power is impossible. Every conference it’s the same thing. “We kindly request that nobody streams video on the conference network”, or “We kindly request that you turn off personal-wireless sharing, all these Wifi hotspots are interfering with the network”
Don’t they get it, there will never be enough bandwidth. Why? Because there are way too many tweeters and bloggers that would love to be live-streaming their experience to their fans – or running a live google hangout. You talk about second-screen while watching TV? Try second-screen activity at a conference. I think the way conferences are trying to reduce demand is to reduce the # of available power sockets, hoping that everyone’s battery will run dry.
So what should you do? Bring a notepad and pen. Use them.
4. Turn off Email, Twitter, IM. If you are going to have a computer turned on in front of you (e.g. to type up your notes), turn off Email, Twitter and IM. There is little to be gained and much to lose by having these turned on.
5. Avoid Everyone You Know. IMHO the point of a tech conference is to get exposed to new ideas, projects, companies and people. This is a great and rare opportunity to get face-time with people who are doing things that are new-to-you. So, although it’s a little less comfortable, don’t have lunch with your colleagues. Go find a random empty seat, sit down, and introduce yourself. Whenever you’re in line, or sit down, introduce yourself to the person beside you. If this kind of thing is difficult for you, I suggest you go Google the term “Assume Rapport”. I had the chance to meet and chat with all kinds of interesting people working on interesting projects. This kind of serendipity is super helpful for getting ideas flowing.
6. Record Some Todos. Our policy at Bazaarvoice is to prepare a trip report that you share with your colleagues so they can get exposed to the interesting new ideas / projects / frameworks / tools / companies that you discovered at the conference. But aside from your notes you should keep track of things that you want to follow up upon.
My habit is to put a empty square box beside items in my notes where I want to take action. Then when I return from the conference I go through these TODOs. Most of them involve researching some topic / book / tool that the presented mentioned.
That’s it! My advise for getting the most from the conference experience. What are your tips for getting the most out of a Tech Conference?