Friday, September 28, 2012

Conference Survival Guide

The fine folks running Bar Camp Nashville asked me to write a short guide to help attendees get the most out of their un-conference experience.

General Tips
  • Plan Your Schedule - Note which sessions you want to attend in advance. Choose backup sessions in case your first choice gets rescheduled or canceled.
  • Dress Comfortably - It's hard to concentrate on the speaker if your feet are hurting.
  • Bring a Bag - The conference might provide one, but then it's going to look just like everyone else's and you run the risk of losing it.
  • Take Breaks - All those sessions can get overwhelming. Don't be afraid to take a break to digest and discuss what you've heard with others.
  • Don't Be a Loner - Meals are great networking opportunities and you can usually find at least one other person who is hungry and would enjoy the company.
  • Be a Loner - Don't spend the whole conference around the same people, especially coworkers or friends who you see regularly. By striking out on your own you may meet people you otherwise wouldn't.
  • Eat Left Handed - There's no telling what kind of germs you've accumulated by shaking hands, not to mention all the door knobs and railings. Wash your hands regularly, use sanitizer and try not to touch your face or handle food with your dominant hand.
  • Use Twitter - Even if you never post a single tweet, Twitter is a great way to find out what's going on and connect with people. Search for the conference name, hash tag or influencers to see what people are up to.
  • Write on Business Cards - When handing out or receiving a business card, flip it over and write a short note on the back to help later with recalling what was being discussed.
  • Follow Up with Contacts - Don't just throw all those business cards in a drawer when you get home. Take a moment to write follow-up emails and enter their contact information into your address book.
Session Tips
  • Taking Notes - Write down reminders for yourself when you hear/see something you want to look at more closely later. Ask if the presenter will be posting their slides. If not, use your phone's camera to take snapshots of important slides. If so, then there's no need to copy them down and you can focus on what the presenter is saying.
  • Ask Questions - Unless the presenter has asked to hold questions until then end, don't be afraid to speak up. Chances are, someone else in that room has the same question and is afraid to ask.
  • Use the Two Foot Rule - If you're not getting something out of the presentation, don't be afraid to use your two feet and walk out to try another session or just socialize.
  • Following Up - Most presenters will share their email address or twitter handle as a way of contacting them with questions. Take advantage of their offer to start a dialog.
  • Do Something - Find a way to use what you've learned in the session. Teaching it to others is a great way to be sure you understand and will retain your new-found knowledge.


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