First, the most important advice I can give you is to relax and have FUN!
Until recently, most of the conferences I participated in were very stressful for me. My very first big conference was back in 2000 – the Oracle User Group conference in Copenhagen. Since then, I have participated in 1 or 2 conferences per year. I always do a lot of prep work to ensure that I get the most out of the conference. I try my best to participate in as many sessions as possible and get very upset if I miss a session for any reason. It’s only during this last year or so, after participating in some of the best conferences of my life, that I now understand how much I was missing before. Getting as stressed as I did prevented me from learning as much as I could.
My Advice to You
During the last few conferences, I have learned more from sessions and networking than ever before. Here’s what I learned.
Don’t worry if you deviate from your original agenda
Don’t get me wrong, it is a great idea to plan which sessions you want to attend before you get to the conference; however, don’t spend too much time planning and don’t worry if you don’t attend every session in your agenda. Yes, you are there to learn. Yes, you have paid a significant amount of money to be there, but you will learn a lot more if you aren’t too stressed about sticking to your original schedule. My best advice is to build a good agenda based on your interests and do your best to follow it. Don’t worry if you miss one or two sessions. Enjoy networking, and you will learn more during the next session. If you feel tired, take a break, relax, and ask yourself: “What would I like to do next?” And then do it, even if it isn’t in your original agenda. Explore the exhibition, talk to someone, or maybe take a break from the conference entirely and go outside for 30 minutes or so.
As the saying goes, the only constant is change, so don’t worry about sticking to your agenda too strictly. You will get more out of the conference if you network with people, listen to their advice, take a break, and then adjust your schedule.
Mix sessions with expert panels and SIG meetings
While you can learn a lot by attending sessions focused on a particular topic with one speaker or one presentation, you may get tired faster. I suggest mixing sessions with community discussions. Most conferences offer many panels and special interest group (SIG) meetings. I am sure you will find some that suit your needs and interests. Attend a few and get involved in the discussions. Build new connections and talk with people from your interest group. Ask them which sessions they are planning to attend. Chances are they can recommend a very good speaker or session you may not have considered when building your agenda. Tag along and try something you hadn’t planned.
Use Twitter for conference communications
Many people think Twitter is a waste of time and sometimes it is, but not when it comes to staying up-to-date at conferences. For me, Twitter is the best communication media and way to stay in touch at any conference. It can help you do many things, including:
- Receive the latest news related to the conference (an upcoming event, a good giveaway, an appreciation event, a good person to meet, etc.).
- Ask conference-related questions. (Ask your question using the conference’s hashtag and someone will answer you.)
- Discuss ongoing sessions in real time and share information you just learned with other conference participants.
- Meet with other professionals from your industry.
- Use Twitter to find people (many use Twitter instead of a phone or any other communication media) who may want to share a beer with a stranger or know of a good party. :)
Below are a few suggestions for getting started on Twitter once you’ve created an account:
- Start by searching for tweets using the conference’s hashtag(s). For Collaborate 2013, the main hashtag is #C13DEN.
- If the main conference hashtag gets too noisy, start following a few folks who are tweeting about topics that interest you.
- Often (and Collaborate isn’t an exception) conferences have sub-hashtags that may be less noisy and more focused on the areas you are interested in. For example, #C13TCH is the hashtag for technical context at Collaborate 2013.
- Build your private “Twitter list” of people you would like to follow during the conference. You can add and remove people if those get too noisy.
- It is easy to use any Twitter client and switch between lists, searches, and streams depending on your preferences. Try it and you will find the best for you in no time.
PS: Don’t forget to fully charge your mobile’s battery each evening (or even buy an external battery for recharging as you go).
Network with people
Twitter and some other communication media are great tools for getting information, but don’t forget that a conference is a place to meet PEOPLE. Do not hesitate to say “Hi” to the person standing next to you in a lunch queue or sitting beside you waiting for a session to start. Part of the challenge is finding the right people to talk to. You don’t often talk about databases with your wife or husband, do you? But chances are the person sitting next to you has similar interests. They are there for exactly the same reasons as you. It’s a great opportunity to learn, listen, and share your experiences. Everybody wins.
Learning and new opportunities are two of the main reasons for attending conferences, but another reason is to take a break from day-to-day life and have fun. As they say, a change is as good as a rest. Think about it! You get the chance to get away from work, routine, neighbours, commuting, etc. Use the change! Have fun, smile more, and get a bit crazy. Do things that you may not get to do that often. Try new things. You don’t see these people on a daily basis. Leave them with the impression that you are a fun and friendly person!
Have fun, my friend, and see you very soon in Denver :)
You can follow me on Twitter: @yvelik
You can follow many other Collaborate conference participants here.
Feel free to share your hints and give me your feedback using Twitter or the comment section below :)