Value of technical conferences

Don’t technical conferences sound like fun? At their best, you get whisked off to cool locations like Las Vegas and New Orleans. At their worst, they are down the street from where you work and you have to come back to the office in time for a 4:00 staff meeting.

Cool locations aside, with proper planning, a technical conference can be of real value to you and your company. This planning is divided into two parts; picking the right conference, and budgeting your time once there.

Regarding picking the right conference, consider the following:

  • Do you think the keynote speakers provide you insights that will help you at work as well as help you grow professionally?
  • Will you immediately be using the technologies you will be learning at the conference? If not, the knowledge you have gained will fade by the time you need to use it.
  • Will there be the opportunity of professional networking? If yes, is it with people that can be of value to you professionally?
  • Given that all companies have limited budgets, is this the best conference for you to go to from your company’s and your professional perspective?
  • Is the timing of the conference at a time that will not adversely affect your current work projects and/or deliverables?
  • Is the timing of the conference at a time that will not adversely affect your family beyond standard traveling inconveniences?

As you see, the nature of these questions are to try to assure that the conference has the dual value of being good for the company and good for you. After all, it’s your company’s money and your time.

Now that you have decided which conference to attend, the second part of your planning is the development of a plan to get as much as you can out of the conference. Remember, even though a technical conference may have an element of fun, it’s still work and should be treated as such. That said, your pre-conference planning should include the following items:

  • If there are simultaneous sessions, carefully decide which sessions to attend. Review the list of exhibitors/vendors and write out a list of which vendors you want to visit.
  • If a list of attendees is available, review the list for former co-workers you would like to reconnect with and companies where you would like to develop a contact.
  • Try to book your hotel room in the same hotel as the conference. It will save you time and make the logistics much simpler.
  • Book your plane flights early to save your company money. Also, if your plane tickets are already purchased it’s less likely that your boss will change his/her mind and not let you attend, particularly if the tickets are non-refundable.
  • Ask your boss and co-workers what information they would like you to bring back from the conference. This increases the value of the conference to your company.

Once at the conference consider the following:

  • When you pack to go to the conference leave room in your suitcase for the stuff you will want to bring home from the conference (books you won’t read, tie shirts you will never wear, free toys your kids won’t like, etc.)
  • If there are two sessions at the same time that you would like to attend, whichever one you go to, sit in the back; that way if it’s not very good you can sneak out and go to the other session. If you are sitting in the front or in the middle of an line of chairs it is much harder to quietly and politely exit.
  • Talk to as many people as you can. It’s always good to expand your professional network. Also, if you can make a good contact with one of your company’s vendors or clients it can be of great value to your company.
  • When walking through the vendor area, the exhibitors with the biggest lines have either the best technologies or the best give-away toys. Visiting this exhibitor is either a win for you or a win for your kids.
  • If the session you are in is really boring and of no value to you, sneak out, go to the exhibit hall and visit the vendors you have on your “must see” list. The vendors are far less busy when the sessions are in progress and will be able to give you more time.
  • If most of the vendors are giving away candy. Don’t eat too much of it. It’s not good for you and will make you sick if you don’t pay attention to how much you are eating. Please note that on this item in particular, far too often I have not followed my own advice :)

In closing, if you are going to the conference anyway, get everything you can out of it. After all, both your company’s money and your time are bad things to waste.

If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at eric@ManagerMechanics.com or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom.

Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to grow.

Read more of Eric Bloom's Your IT Career blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricPBloom. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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