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Cognition

Conf Hack

I don’t attend a ton of large conferences each year. I attend local events, but when I dedicate a few consecutive days to a larger event, I want to make it count. You may do the same—feeling like you only get one shot to attend a conference and learn all you can. Here are some tips I’ve learned for how to make the most out of these unique opportunities.

It’s not about the speakers

If you’re attending a 150-person conference with 15 speakers/workshop leaders/lightning-talkers and exclusively focus on the presenters, then there are ten times as many other perspectives you’re missing. Think of a conference like a conversation—the speakers are merely the people given the floor at a particular time. Often, one of your fellow attendees will have equally relevant insight or has shared similar experiences or constraints. Find them. Talk to them. Build relationships with them. (That’s networking when it’s done right.)

Research attendees in advance

Once you view your fellow attendees as resources that are as valuable as a conference session itself, you’ll want to make sure you can spend ample time with them. But, you don’t have to plan as you go. Many conferences establish a promotional hashtag in advance of the event, or services like Lanyrd list all registered attendees. You can even set up a custom search channel on a tool like Tweetdeck to collect conference mentions prior to the event. If you notice attendees or speakers you’re excited to meet, reach out. Let them know you’d like to meet them, or ask if you can steal some of their time while you’re there. If you’re flying solo to an event, these folks can stock your lunch table or be your coffee-break buddies.

Join the metaconference

There’s a back-channel conference that’s almost as valuable as the main room. Check Twitter during breaks to see who’s asking the questions you want answered—who’s sparking a dialogue—then go find them IRL. If you want to spend more time on a topic or introduce one not on the agenda, suggest it as a possible lunch conversation via Twitter and recruit a table full of like-minded and interested folks.

Take notes for yourself—and others

You’re going to want to take notes to remember all the smart bits and quotes. You can add value to others’ conference experiences by posting and sharing them. Multi-track conferences offer the opportunity to dig into specific topics in more detail. Their drawback is serious FOMO. Your notes don’t need to be immaculately composed sketch-notes, although they rule. Just post your outline or quick thoughts for others to review. It’s a service to your fellow attendees, a great way to discuss a topic more thoroughly, and another vehicle to meet fellow attendees.

Keep it alive

The conference may wrap up, but the smart move is to keep the dialogue and relationships alive post-event. Trade emails and follow folks on Twitter, but don’t be passive. Establish points to reconnect. Build and improve those relationships. Foster opportunities for future collaboration.

If you met a friend, mentor, or colleague at a conference, we’d love to hear about it, and what that relationship means to you.

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