« How to Survive a Conference

September 21, 2017 • ☕️ 2 min read


O’Reilly’s AI Conference in San Francisco just wrapped up yesterday and I had a few thoughts on surviving similar events. If you go into a conference thinking everyone is coping in their own ways with information overload, it can be almost comforting! But you can also read a few of my ideas below.

1. Do some pre-work.

I try to read through tracks and abstracts to prepare my schedule ahead of time. This helps me understand when I might be available to take a meeting (real world work never stops!) or when I can take on event support tasks like booth duty. Posted schedules at the event may only include titles, which may not be descriptive enough to capture your attention.

Laptops get very heavy throughout the day. They defy physics and gain mass as the day goes on. If you aren’t taking notes or attending hands on workshops, it might be beneficial to just leave the machine at home.

2. Mentally prepare yourself for being surrounded by tons of people.

Just like cold and flu season brings a predictable uptick in coughing and sneezing, so does conference season. It involves handshaking, hugging, and just being in close proximity to all sorts of people. Getting some sort of conference crud is inevitable.

If you are an introvert you are going to be exhausted. If you are an extrovert you may run home super jazzed to take on the world. If you are somewhere in between, you may lay on the floor staring at the ceiling pondering all the things you are inspired to do… tomorrow!

I always work in some sort of downtime after the event to catch up on email, work, and just general quiet time. I just tell my coworkers I’m “not peopling” today and it’s pretty effective at allowing me some time to recharge.

3. Don’t feel obligated to go to every session.

Sometimes it just works out that nothing interests me during a given time slot. That’s not to say the content is bad, it’s just not for me. This is a great time for casual networking or just a little downtime. You are going to have tons of information thrown at you and it can be overwhelming.

It is overwhelming.

Make sure you review expectations with your manager. If you’ve been sent to the conference on behalf of your team for information gathering, you may be obligated to attend every session you possibly can.

4. Go to talks that are way over your head.

Take note of topics to research later. I leave every conference with a huge list of things to search. If you go to only the topics you know well, you may not learn anything new! Challenge yourself.

But — I also make sure to attend some beginner level topics as a refresher for teaching topics myself. Everyone’s learning style is different and it can be helpful to collect a number of different ways to explain the same thing.

5. Submit a talk (to the next conference)

If it gets accepted, spend some time in the speaker ready room. It’s a great place to network with other speakers. If it doesn’t get accepted, refine it and/or submit to a different conference! Never give up! Many speakers face more rejects than accepts.

In fact, I’m often so inspired from a conference that I submit a proposal almost immediately after. Or I jot down some ideas for when the next call for speakers/proposals opens and I’m ready to go!

This is not a comprehensive list and I certainly don’t think its applicable to only tech conferences. What are your survival tips? Do any of these resonate with you?