I’m a sucker for these things. Yeah I’m a fan boy of conferences, so much that a boss of mine got me a signed t-shirt from a conference he attended, whilst I had to stay in the office and bill.
Why? I’ve been around this industry for a lot of years now, and to be honest it is a conference that really sparked my passion for the game. Back in 2007 (maybe) one of the original ATC’s that Trevor and Martin et al. put on. It was just amazing. After we went through the measuring contest my boss was having with the conference organisers, I finally got myself a ticket. The “negotiations” had been on going for weeks it seemed to me, but Trevor softened, and through his generosity (or his want to just shut my old boss up) he allowed me to come along.
My first impression was that I was completely underdressed, I thought everyone would be dot com (“ishly”) dressed, you know, jeans, t-shirts etc. That’s how I chose to dress, but I was pretty much on my own there, apart from a few presenters. But from there my world changed. Who knew there was actually a community of “tragics” like me out there, even people from across the world who would have stories and learnings to share. There were about 200 attendees and I just couldn’t get enough. I had pages and pages of notes, a headache from all the thinking (nothing to do with the sponsored drinks I promise), a newly won stuffed pig, a head full of new people I’d met and spoken to, and absolutely no idea how I was going to implement anything I’d learned into my organisation.
And that there is the magic. The networking and the learning. This moment here, is why I am still in Recruiting, back then I was looking to get out into something more “respectful”.
Firstly, I think the trick of conferences is to pick the ones that have topics that interest you. Don’t just go to one’s the boss pays for, thinking you’ll have a few days off, some nice lunches and collect two armfuls of swag from the vendors. Study the conference guide, look at who’s talking, what the topics are, are there 2 speakers at the same time you’d want to hear? How will you handle that? (It sucks when this happens, pays to have friends there!)
Have chargers and identify power outlets, just in-case. I don’t hand write stuff anymore, I cannot re-read it or file it succinctly enough, I’ll either have my laptop or iPad with me, wi-fi is almost a given nowadays.
Secondly, find the free coffee cart
Thirdly, TALK TO PEOPLE, don’t be afraid to make the first move, say hi, introduce yourself and talk about some of the topics being presented, it’s an easy opener. People will be like minded and hopefully will have an opinion or experiences to share with you (or even better debate with you). Be engaged in the conversation, but sometimes you have to find out where it is. If you’re too shy to talk to people, and let’s face it, it can be a little daunting, there is an easier way. My friend Twitter! I’ll bet you there will be a conversation happening in the #hashtags! A great source of the sub conference. It’s a great way to be involved and can lead to meeting people in real life. (I actually got my last job via meeting people this way) In a lot of the conferences I have been to there has been a tag for twitter there, #atcsyd etc. I even follow conferences from overseas via the hashtags, it’s great what you can see doing this. Getting involved really does enhance the experience. Being part of the community, it’s great (and can be entertaining).
I suppose this is the clincher I think. Going to conferences make you part of a conversation, part of a community, part of something bigger than yourself (some people will say “Part of a movement”, but that’s a smidge dramatic for me), where you can add your 2 cents and have your mind blown all on the same day. And as I have always been told and will tell people who report to me “It only takes one great idea for the conference to pay for itself!” Open you mind and let them flow in.