The Conference Survival Guide (Practical Edition)

Conferences can be intimidating, especially if you’re not used to meeting lots of people! What you need is the Conference Survival Guide (Practical Edition).

Photo of Chris Maiden
Thu, 2014-10-02 15:14By chris

I am pretty sure there's a tech conference happening every week these days: I had a great time at Symfony Live London last week, most of the Code Enigma team are at Drupalcon Amsterdam this week and I will be out and about attending PHPNW14 this coming weekend…

I also know there are plenty of "Conference Survival Guide" blog posts out there already, you know the ones with advice such as:

“Make friends, everyone is just as nervous as you are!”

and

“Make sure you attend the socials, not just the conference itself, it’s a good way to make new friends.”

This is all well and good if you’re naturally outgoing, confident and are able to strike up a rich and flowing dialogue on any given subject at the drop of a hat!

But what if you’re like me? What if people, in general, scare you? What if you find just getting to the conference an enormous ordeal let alone the thought of starting up a conversation with another human being?

Well, may I here present the Conference Survival Guide (Practical Edition), a small collection of very practical things I’ve found that work for me... Who knows, they may just work for you too!

  • Prepare openers. It’s all about openers. You don’t need many, you can reuse them and you can also chain them:
    • “So have you travelled far to be here?”
    • “Is this your first time at this conference?”
    • “Mind if I join you?”
    • “Which talks have you been too then?”
  • At the water table, turn over two glasses and pour one for the person behind you, use one of your openers.
  • In the auditorium, force yourself past the empty chairs till you get to someone, use your “Mind if I join you?” opener followed by, “So have you travelled far to be here?”
  • Practice on the exhibitors. They’re purposely at the conference because they want to talk to attendees, they want to talk to you! Walk boldly up and ask them (even if you know already...), “So, what is this Code Club thing then?”
  • Take twice as much swag as you need, there’s always swag and exhibitors usually don’t mind. Either pass it immediately to the person next to you at the booth or produce it later from your bag and use the opener, “Hey, did you get some of these stickers? How're you finding the conference so far?”
  • If you find yourself really struggling, make a bee-line for someone with a yes face.
  • Divide and conquer. Whilst it’s tempting to stay with your work colleagues or the friends you’re attending the conference with, venture off in any direction, try out an opener on an unsuspecting stranger!
  • Lastly, don’t wear yourself out. I never, OK, I rarely ever attend the socials. I conserve my energy and prepare for the following day.

I’ve done (and continue to do) these things at all the conferences I attend. If you're like me then I’d love to hear about the things you've found that work you. You never know, we might just end up pouring water for each other one day!