After any major conference like last weeks SXSW, you can be sure there will be plenty of posts complaining about how people didn't get what they hoped for out of it, the panels weren't as good as they had hoped for or why it is a stupid conference and they didn't go. It is the nature of the Internet to complain and it will always happen, but personally I'm sick of it.
Conferences are not cheap. The really good ones are expensive and with travel expenses can cost several thousands of dollars to attend. If you are in business for yourself like I am you have to make sure that you spend every dollar wisely and thus conference time has to be planned smartly or you are just wasting your money. In addition, you must factor in the cost of your time being away as I'd argue that might be even more expensive.
So don't blame the conference if you don't get what you wanted out of it. Every conference tells you up front what to expect. It is up to each of us to make the most of it.
Here are some tips for how I make conferences a success for me. I hope they help you next time.
- Plan Ahead - I try to set up meetings and meals with people as far ahead as possible because I know how busy schedule will get. I had one breakfast meeting for Austin on the calendar for three months.
- Don't Only Spend Time With Friends - It is way to easy to only hang out with your immediate circle. But, you know what? Real friends will undersand when you tell them that you have other plans and will catch up with them later. If you only stay in a single circle of people how in the world are you going to meet new people?
- In Person Trumps Online Every Time - Walking the hallways and seeing people still a slave to their laptop and seeing that they are only on Twitter and Facebook makes me shake my head. You can do that any other day, but you've got real live humans walking the halls around you. Leave the laptop in your room and say hi and give a hug or a handshake.
- Schedule Serendipity Time - Kind of doesn't make sense right? Take an hour and leave your schedule wide open. Sit down, hang out and see what happens. If there are other people around you, say hi and see where it goes. I met someone this week who works for a company I've longed to make contact with and it came about by doing exactly this.
- Get Up Early, Stay Up Late - We all have the same amount of time to work with every day and when I'm at an event I want to make the most of it. This usually means little sleep for me and while it may not be the healthiest thing, it is vital for me. While I may have been out till 1 or 2 some nights I was up and out of my hotel by 8 every morning.
- Set Clear Goals - For some people this is a hit list of people you want to connect with, others focus on coming away with at least one new technology that will help their clients. Take the time before leaving to really think about what want to return home having accomplished.
Those are just some of the tactics and approaches I'd advise. The key is that you are only going to get out of a conference what you put into it.
It is up to you to work as hard as possible for the success you crave since no one is going to hand it to you.