Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Making the Most of Attending a Conference - Ideas Needed

In comments in the post Death of Magazines - Broader Deeper Coverage, Virginia Yonkers commented:
I have to wonder what you expect to get out of a conference. I have never gone to a conference with the expectation of learning anything (although it would be a nice aside) but rather to network, discuss issues, and market (myself, my institution, my discipline, my theories/philosophies).
and later
I just had two papers accepted at the AERA conference in NYC this year and am dreading it. Last year's experience was horrible when it came to the conference itself, because I felt no sense of connection with such a massive organization.

However, the learning took place when I came home and was able to read through the papers and journals I picked up while there. I also contacted some of the people whose papers I found interesting. Unfortunately, at this point in my career, I must attend these types of conferences. So I will suffer through a trip to NYC (I'm a small town girl) and give me 10 minutes of presentation.
Sadly, I've felt the same way about going to conferences. I'm going to present at the conference and I'll get together with folks for networking and discussion. I'll learn through those things, but it seems that creating a conference where I also get to have a great participation experience is not on the agenda of conference organizers or attendees. This is something I've lamented about frequently.

Lots of people chimed into the post Better Conferences and among the ideas were things like:
  • Free wifi (top choice on the poll)
  • Smaller sessions with more advanced topics and discussions (this worked great at the last DevLearn but unfortunately was at 7AM)
  • Unconference within a conference
  • Keynotes aimed at us
  • Lots of demos
  • Cheat sheets or other sharing to help you get more from the conference
But this was from the perspective of what the conference organizer should do to make it a better event. Clark Quinn told me back then that it really is up to the attendee (especially the "expert" attendee) to get more out of it.

I somewhat agree with him on this. And I've certainly tried to think through this (see Be an Insanely Great Professional Conference Attendee and Session Hopping a Practical Guide). I've also continually suggested that the key is Better Questions (see also Continuing Thoughts on Questions and What Questions Should We be Asking?).

However, Virginia's comments got me thinking. I thought about how great the conversations are at my CTO Forum where a group of peers come together. Why am I not getting value from conferences? Why is Virginia clearly dreading going to her conference? Shouldn't something that costs so much money and time offer me more value that something that's free (my CTO Forum). Something is wrong here. Maybe
As a practitioner with more experience, I'm not doing the right things to get more from my conference experience.
But what are these things? What do other people do to get more from a conference?

For more discussions on networking and LinkedIn see Networking Events in Los Angeles and Southern California, Secret for Networking at Events – Prenetworking, Pre-network with LinkedIn, Local Event Organizers Need to Adopt Social Media.

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