Hi I’m Wes, and I’m a conference junkie. I have learned how to get lots of great things from conferences, from awesome tech tips to best practices and even some great business opportunities; but it wasn’t always like that. I made some mistakes attending some of my first conferences, which I have learnt from. Here are my top 10 tips from getting the most out of your day, if you have any other great tips, please comment below.
1 - Make friends and speak to who you need
This is the top tip by a long way. No matter how nervous you are at a conference, keeping yourself to yourself will leave you feeling like everything was a waste of time. Meeting people within the community is critically important, this is how you get the help you need and the opportunities you are looking for. If you want to get hired speak to people who are hiring, if you want to hire, speak to people who are looking.
If there is a speaker or contributor in the room that you need to speak to, it doesn’t matter how “internet famous” they are, they want to hear your questions and talk to you about their passions, it’s why they are there. And if you want to speak to me about Sensio Labs, training, certification training, consultancy, getting your pilot’s license or particle physics, please do so ;)
2 - Before and after socials
Usually there is a social the evening before the conference, the best thing to do is get involved with social media and see what is happening on the official hashtags.
Also, hang around after the conference, there is always something going on. It’s usually a fully organised conference social but it can also be something unofficial. The socials are a great place to fulfil #1.
3 - Keep juiced up
Water, sugar and electricity. It’s important to make sure you have enough water, there is usually plenty available at a conference, take a bottle of water to each talk. Same for sugar levels, concentrating is hard work, in the afternoon your sugar levels may dip, if you are prone to this make sure you pick up something to eat, there will be snacks available. Don’t forget your charger, and if you can bring more than you need, it’s a great way to make friends, we depend on our devices and someone with a charging cable can be a life saver.
4 - Speak to the sponsors
They are there because they think their services are of interest to you and it’s amazing what deals you can negotiate at a conference. From hosting services to book sellers and IDE vendors you get a great deal and some solid explanations of the technology and services they provide. Plus they care about you and the community, that’s why they sponsor conferences.
5 - Give feedback on Joind.In
Use Joind.in to give feedback. If you don’t like a talk then this is the only way people can find out about it. People want to improve their speaking techniques, and event organisers want to improve their events. Constructive criticism is very welcome, being mean or using it as an opportunity to show off, is not so welcome.
6 - When you sit down speak to the person next to you
You might not know who they are, but you both have something in common. You both want to see this talk. Ask them what they expect from the talk, why they have chosen it and share your excitement. Plus, you never know who it might be, in Paris I sat next to a guy and we got talking about Drupal 8 and how excited I was, turns out it was Larry Garfield and it was the first of about 10 great conversations we had over the conference.
7 - Sit near the front
Watch other speakers and serious conference junkies, they all sit at the front to get the best view, make sure they can hear, and make sure their questions will be answered if there is a Q&A session.
8 - Plan your talks
Make sure you have a plan for which talks you would like to see. Most conferences have multiple tracks meaning you will miss some live talks. The best thing to do is pick the talk that is most relevant to you, and if you really can’t decide, go for the one that you think you won’t get an opportunity to see again. For example. I rarely watch talks by people from Sheffield or Manchester as I know I will probably get a chance to see the same talk at a local user group.
9 - Getting there
Make sure you know how to get there, plan your route and give yourself plenty of time for registration and a coffee. There is nothing worse than arriving late and having to sneak into the back of a talk.
10 - Be respectful
Everyone has the right to enjoy a safe, relaxed conference. There are many people there from different walks of life, respect all attendees regardless of their nationality, gender, taste in clothes or choice of PHP framework. We’re all different.