I went to three conferences in the past six weeks. This is not a combination I will attempt to do again, but I would like to pass along a few observations that I noticed in the process.
As an Attendee
- Don't feel like you have to go to every. single. session. There are many of them, and not all of them will interest you. Sometimes it's better to go back to your room or sit in a corner to recharge, or maybe you want to participate in Hallway Conf (the unofficial networking event that happens outside of sessions). This is more than okay.
- Yes, you are going to have to be at least a little social. Yes, you will have to talk to random strangers. Fortunately, it turns out that you already have something in common! (Hint: it's a safe bet you're both into the subject of the conference.) Some of the best people I've met in my life are the random strangers I awkwardly introduced myself to at these events.
- The speakers are not gods. They will not smite you with lightning if you ask (what *you* think is) a silly question. In fact, they are speaking because they want you to learn something. Go talk to them and pick their brains.
As a Speaker
- You will be nervous before your talk and exhausted after it. These feelings are due to your endorphins surging through your body because you're doing something unnatural. This is more than okay. Drink lots of water, talk about something that makes you happy (i.e. your dog or your favorite board game) during the 20 minutes before your talk, and take a quick potty break right before you go on stage. After your talk, expect to have to answer some questions - just make sure you eventually find some alone time to fully decompress.
- You are not a god. Be nice when someone asks you questions about your talk or topic. Be honest - if you're tired/don't want to answer/don't know the answer, just say so. You will get crazy questions, but you'll also get really interesting ones.
- Network, network, network. You have no idea who you will meet or what they can do for you later on in your career. I've gotten most of my leads for exciting new career opportunities while at conferences - it turns out knowing your future boss is an excellent "in" for your dream job (and a whole heck of a lot better than going through a recruiter).
- Follow up, follow up, follow up. The people you connect to at the conference will be connecting with the hundreds of other people at the conference as well. They'll remember you better if you remember to reach out to them. Fortunately, it's 2013 - you don't have to exchange business cards; Twitter, gchat, and IRC are perfectly sufficient methods for keeping those connections strong.
- The conference organizers and staff have worked their butts off. Thank them. Thank them every chance you get - because their jobs are the most thankless, and they need to be reminded that it was all worth it. It doesn't matter how you thank them, just make sure that you do.
- Don't be a meanie/poopy head. No, really - be kind, courteous, and respectful. Have fun, but not at the expense of others. Conferences are only as awesome as the people who participate in it.