Tips on attending conferences

Thoughtful article in today’s Financial Times (subscribers only) quotes 49-year-old Yolanda Barnes, a research director at an estate agency who attends 20 conferences annually. This veteran of the conference circuit prefers attending smaller conferences. She finds it easier to gather specialized information.

Larger events are better for networking.

Example: many experienced speakers attend the big National Speakers Association Convention purely for networking.

Yolanda prefers halls with natural light (note: avoid underground venues such as the San Francisco Moscone Center) and dislikes stage-managed ‘live’ discussions which “lack intellectual repartee and the spark of real debate”.

She concludes by sharing her tips on attending conferences:

“Listen imaginatively. Even if the speaker’s area is not relevant to you you will find a way of translating it to your particular speciality. And it’s always better to attend a few good sessions than to try to cram everything in,” she says.

“As a researcher I might want quite different things from a meeting or conference to other delegates. But you should always stock up with business cards and leave enough time for chatting with other professionals and asking questions.”

Other resources for you to check if you are conference-bound include:

  • Bill Lampton’s Ten Tips on Attending a Conference
  • My favorite – Tip #8:

    Buy the tapes and audio CDs recorded during the sessions.

  • Stephen Abram’s Conference Tips
  • I love his measure of value for attending:

    I met at least one new person every day.
    I learned at least one useful thing I didn’t know in a session every day.
    I had at least one substantive discussion with a vendor about a new product that I might need.
    I had fun, every day.

  • This summary of a discussion among graduate-students on tips and tricks for conferences.
  • My favorite bit of advice:

    If you are giving a talk, do not read your paper. Do not fight with the organizer over time. Do not be convinced that the audience will be enthralled if only you can get this one last point in. Do not edit out whole sections on the fly as you notice time running out. If you find yourself falling in love with your own prose, exercise caution.

  • Finally, this insightful article from gives some ideas on how to attend a conference without being there!
  • The trick, of course, is to use the web to capture content, example:

    For tech conferences, I’ve found that IT Conversations, part of the Gigavox Media network, have some GREAT coverage. I should also mention PodTech, another really great source for interesting conference coverage.

What are your tips for attending conferences?

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This tip is not technically about networking, but I would say that the first thing I think about when planning to attend a conference is wearing comfortable shoes!

I’ve spent many hours on the floor of the Moscone Center and other venues, large and small, and there’s never enough seating.

Most of the time, I’m standing through meetings and networking mixers, sitting down only when attending presentations or during lunch. At some venues, the concrete is just thinly padded on the trade show floor.

I may look sharp in my heels, but I’m not going to be able to give my entire attention to new contacts if my feet and back are hurting.

Neem James lists Strategies to Make Your Conference Attendance More Productive. My favorite “…be present at all times.”

Here’s more useful tips on attending a conference from Thom Singer of Austin, TX.

Ben Saren lists 10 Conference Networking Tips. Good, streetwise info.

My favorite: “Don’t go to bed. I mean this. You didn’t spend your or your company’s money to go to bed when the best stuff happens. The best time to meet people, to learn, and to establish relationships and prospect for deals is during the hours following each day’s show. Whether in the bar, the restaurant, in the lobby, in the hallways, or outside the hotel at dinner and bar meetings – that’s when it happens. Simply put, be available. Don’t drink? No problem – but be there. You can make up the sleep on the plane or when you get back to your hometown. This way you’ll really be taking advantage of all the networking opportunities.

Here’s Alison’s tips on effective tweeting at conferences for attendees, speakers and organizers.

Peter Shankman’s How to Survive SXSW With Your Health, Dignity, and Most Importantly, Your Reputation Intact is great for major events.

Laura Vanderkam writes in the June 2013 Fast Company on “How to Crush a Conference”. Five great tips include:

  • Build your tribe in advance
  • Go with a goal
  • Stop obsessing about the panels (“They can be enlightening, but often they serve as a way to get bigger name people to attend the conference.”)
  • Be open to serendipity. Be your most extroverted self.
  • Have adventures with your own team.

Chester Elton suggests 3 Stealth Ways to Network at Conferences:

  1. Trade cards: Say, “Hi, I am (Insert Your Name Here). I don’t know a soul here, how about you?” Then ask for their business card and give them one in return.
  2. Volunteer: Getting involved behind the scenes is a great way to network and meet other people passionate about your industry; and the relationships you build will inevitably help you better understand the opportunities in your business.
  3. Follow up: Make a goal. Within three days you will reach out to everyone you met at the conference, connect with them via LinkedIn, and sit down and pen a quick handwritten thank you note with your business card inside—old school, but very personal and very effective.

This article was very helpful! I am in Philadelphia attending for the first time the NSA (National Speakers Association) Convention. I am so excited to be here! I will be joining my group FSA (Florida Speakers Association)> Joy!

The July/August 2013 issue of SPEAKER magazine has a useful list by David Newman, CSP, of 5 ways speakers can build their business at conferences, both as a speaker and as an attendee.

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