5 Tips For Attending Conferences

With SQLBits 8 being this week in Brighton and it being set to be the biggest and best one yet, it got me thinking.

If I was a first timer to a conference like this, what should I expect?

So here’s my top 5 tips:

  • Talk.
    It’s easy to be daunted by a room full of people who all seem to be in little groups chatting away. You think everyone else there knows someone, except you. Wrong. Of course there are people that know each other, but there will be others who don’t. Don’t be afraid to try and strike up a conversation with people. See it as an investment - the more people you chat to, the more people you will know at future conferences. On twitter? Play “Tweep Bingo” - try and hunt down the people you follow - that way you’ve got an instant “foot in the door” so to speak (unless you ignore / don’t read any of their tweets in which case why are you following them?!).
  • Listen.
    Well, wouldn’t be worth talking if you didn’t listen would it? The main point here is, when you’re in a session, focus on listening. Don’t try to keep notes of everything the speaker says because:
    a) you’ll get cramp in your hand, and you’ll get it bad (personal experience, QCon 2010)
    b) you’ll be focusing on hearing and writing as opposed to listening and learning
    There is an amazing amount of content, let your brain try to sponge it up, not your notepad. That’s not to say don’t make any notes, just don’t fall into the trap of trying to get everything.
    The videos will more than likely be posted online anyway for you to watch back at your leisure (they are for SQLBits).
  • Bearings.
    Find out where the rooms are that you want to attend sessions in and make sure you know where you are going for your next session to give yourself time to get there. You don’t want to be sitting in a room at the start of one session when they start talking about Squirrels when you actually wanted to hear the talk on Meerkats the other side of the building (no I haven’t been to an animal conference before, but yes I have found myself in the wrong room - personal experience #2 from QCon 2010). Plus, it pays to be prepared to get to the very popular sessions - I remember Conor Cunningham’s session at SQLBits 6 and the room was packed to the rafters.
  • Etiquette.
    Switch off your phone or stick it in silent mode. Don’t run the risk of annoying the rest of the room by having it go off mid-session.
  • Socialise.
    A lot of conferences have after parties or evening events. Go along to them if you can, they’re a great way to meet up and have some banter with others in an often very different environment. There’s often free food and drink to be had if that sways you!

See also