[Research] Conference tips

How to get the most out of conferences:

  1. Conversations are more valuable than the sessions
  2. Coming up with a plan: Go through the guidebook with a pen, and mark anything that looks interesting. If you find things that sound cool but vague, flip open the proceedings and check them out. If it looks like something better captured in a paper, then it's probably not worth going to. Circle all of the sessions that look interesting, and if two or more occur at the same time, flag the one you want to go to first. Then during the actual conference, go to the first session you’ve marked. Have a plan to bail after 15 minutes if you’re bored. Odds are it’s not going to get better. Go to the next session in that timeslot that interested you. Repeat the same thought process. Worst case, you can always return to one of the other sessions. The result is that you maximize your time spent in sessions you will actually enjoy, and minimize your time spent bored, hoping things will get better. If you run out of sessions to go to, head over to the trade show area if there is one. During sessions is a good time to introduce yourself to the various people manning the different booths. I’ve had some of my best conference experiences in conversations that started this way.
  3. After hours conference socializing. Often, people spend most of their time at these events with people they already know, or the people they came to the conference with. If you are attending the conference alone, these events can feel very cliquish and elitist. I don’t think anyone intends for this to be so, but often nothing is set up to minimize or inhibit this social tendency.

    If you can manage it, you want to try to have met enough people in the workshops and other sessions in the previous day, that you can wander around at the social, and say hi to people. If you made some decent connections, you’ll be able to jump in on some conversations about meet more people. If you have a few drinks, and can get into the right mindset, you can have a lot of fun bouncing around between different groups.

  4. Don’t use the conference bag, or lug around all the crap they give you. First, it makes you a mark as a tourist to carry the conference bag around outside the conference. Second, traveling in packs of people all using the same bag, all wearing name tags, makes you look kinda like a cult member. You rarely need to lug around all of the stuff they give you (I recommend droping off the proceedings at my hotel room as soon as I get it). Instead bring a light bag, with enough room for the small conference handbook/schedule, some paper, a pen, maybe something to eat, and some business cards. Travel light. You’ll feel much better at the end of the day if you haven’t been carrying 15 lbs of stuff all day. Don't bring your laptop so you can read your email. Go talk to someone instead.