Achieving The Most From A Conference

Attending a conference can be an expensive and time consuming proposition.  Not only do you have to pay for the conference tickets, transportation, and accommodation, you also have to take time off work.  Many employers almost think of conferences as holidays, taking the simplistic view that while you’re at a conference, you aren’t writing code/answering the phone/building a product – therefore you aren’t making money.  Of course, the reality is far more complicated than that.

A Good Conference Will Pay for Itself
When you’re just getting started in your career, it’s a good idea to try to attend several different conferences until you find the ones that suit you best.  A good conference will pay for itself by giving you access to contacts that you otherwise wouldn’t have, and helping you meet new clients or learn new skills.
If it costs you a fortune to attend a conference, and you walk away not knowing anyone new, and not having learned anything, then either you’re approaching conferences the wrong way, or that conference isn’t aimed at people in your specific line of work. Next year, save the money you spent on that conference, and go to a different one instead.
Always Have a Plan
It’s not a good idea to go to an event and then just wander the booths looking for something interesting, or to stand around hoping that people will talk to you.   You should always have a plan.
Try to arrive at the conference fairly early, pick up a copy of the program, and head to a table somewhere.  While you’re grabbing a coffee (almost every event provides free coffee), read through the program and look for interesting sessions to attend.
Make a point of going to keynotes or sessions by important, well known speakers in your industry – you’ll most likely learn something interesting at those sessions.  Fill the rest of your day with workshops, panels, and smaller “poster” sessions.  Ask lots of questions at those sessions, and try to talk to other attendees.
Take Business Cards
You should take a stack of business cards with you.  Carry them with you at all times.  If you’re running low on business cards, get more printed before you go.  You will burn through the cards quickly.
Exchange cards with everyone you talk to.  Don’t worry about looking silly or pushy.  Swapping cards is normal at major events, and it’s something that is expected.  Even if you don’t think that you’ll end up needing to contact the person again, it’s always a good idea to exchange contact details.
Follow Up
If you had an interesting conversation with someone, drop them a message after the event to say thanks.  If you promised to send someone a piece of information, do so. If you stay in touch with the people you meet at conferences, then that could be the start of a lifelong working relationship.
Conference Party Tips
A lot of conferences have parties scheduled for each night.  These events can be fun, but they’re not always great for networking.  If you’re the sort of person that’s good at meeting new people and breaking in to cliques, then by all means head to the parties each evening.  If you’re the shy type, then personally I would recommend that you simply head back to the hotel, type up some notes, have a shower, and go to bed early so you’re fresh and rested for the next day.  That may seem boring, but conferences can be busy and tiring, so it’s worth looking after yourself.
This article was written by Amy Fowler on behalf of UK & Ireland SAP User Group, organisers of an SAP conference. Visit their site to find out more about their conference.
Photo: Grant Wickes