Conference Attendance is Work

Awesome. You’ve just scored a budget to attend the biggest and best conference that your industry has to offer. You’ve planned your attendance to listen to some of the brightest minds in your field, participate in workshops and even attend a few cocktail receptions while you’re there.

But are you working it?

No, I mean really working it. Have you scheduled time to walk the exhibit hall floor and check out some of the new tools and technologies being offered to people like you and organizations like yours?

Have you checked the attendee list to see if there’s anyone you should connect - or reconnect - with?

Are you considering a career move? If so, have you thought about where you’d like to go next? Will anyone from that company be at the conference?

Too often, professionals attend conferences as if it were a big party - or at the very least, a few days away from the office.

If you’re doing it right, you’ll have a full calendar while you’re there.

I’m not saying you should neglect healthy meals or sleep or even a trip to the hotel fitness center. But, you should take advantage of the concentration of people and intensive togetherness that a major conference provides before you head back to the office.

You’ll thank yourself for it later.

Try the “Hallway Track” at your next conference

Over on GigaOm’s Web Worker Daily, Dawn Foster talks about her decision to sometimes follow the “hallway track” at conferences.

For the n00bs, conferences are sometimes broken down into “tracks” - these are different sets of simultaneous panels, talks or workshops that can be set up using a variety of criteria.

Some of those criteria can be based on subject matter (e.g. Technology track, Business track, Legal track, etc.). Other times, they can set up based on format (e.g. Talks, Panels, Workshops, etc.). The segmentation is completely up to the conference producer.

This allows the producer to serve the interests of a variety of attendees. It also provides the producer with more speaking slots - enabling them to invite more notable speakers - while providing them with more sponsorship opportunities. (e.g.”The Technology Track is sponsored by Google“).

Tracks can also be a frustrating experience since you may want to attend two different sessions that occur at the same time. C’est la vie.

No matter what conference you attend, you can always opt for what Dawn calls The Hallway Track. These are the impromptu discussions that occur between  - or even during - scheduled sessions with some of the many interesting people whom you are bound to meet as you move from session to session.

Take advantage of these opportunities. One key benefit of a conference is that it brings people together from throughout your industry for a short, intense period of time and is a great way to spark and nurture relationships.

[Dawn Foster on Web Worker Daily]

Tips: Making the most of your conference attendance

Over on TechCrunch, Mark Suster (@msuster), an entrepreneur with two successful exits and now a VC at GRP Partners, has written a thoughtful post on how startups can make the most of any conferences or events that they attend.

I would say that these are good rules for anyone to follow - not just startups. In summary, they are:

  1. Be very targeted in which events you attend
  2. Do leg work before you get to the event
  3. If you sit on a panel, make sure you don’t suck
  4. Focus more on Lobby Conf than on the panels
  5. Consider staying out late, sleeping in
  6. Schedule dinners
  7. Don’t get too wasted 
  8. Don’t assume everybody remembers you
  9. Get a wing man
  10. Close the loop after the show

You’ll have to read Mark’s entire post but there are two points I might adjust, depending on your style and the style of the people you meet.

#6: Instead of scheduling dinners, consider scheduling breakfasts. As much as conferences can have a party atmosphere, you’ll find that some people are early risers who like to get in a workout and have some productive time in the morning.

If some of the folks that you’re looking to make a connection with fall into this category, get in sync with them at your conference.

Also, consider that many times people are just plain tired after a long day of schmoozing and may not have any gas left in the evening. Get ‘em while they’re fresh.

#5: If you’re attempting to make connections over breakfast, consider “early to bed, early to rise” in order to support that strategy. It’s kind of hard to have a breakfast with an early-riser at 7 when you turned-in tipsy at 5.

[Mark Suster on TechCrunch]