How to Attend a Conference.

I have been to a few different business-related events now, where I have seen a lot of people not really know what to do, where to go, or who to look out for in case of questions. In light of my recent attendance of a BarCamp, which is a very different sort of an event, I thought I would put together this guide to attending a conference.

This is a general guide, and each particular event may differ in its set-up and expected behaviours.

Conference

    • Always bring your own refreshments

Not only will this save you time in the breaks between sessions or presentations, but it will mean you know you’re fed. Most events are catered for the days, but invariably it difficult for an event coordinator to know exactly how much people will eat. And the chances of people eating more at an event where the food is provided than they would at home are high… So you’re likely to miss out on snacks… Or, at least, the good ones.

    • Have back up water

If you’re anything like me, you drink more water than the average fish. Venues will quite often place a bottle of water before every setting on a table, if it’s that kind of set up, but where it isn’t, you will be thirsty in the air conditioning that most places insist on placing either too high or too low, which leads me into my next point.

    • Wear layers of clothing

If you arrive first thing in the morning, as most conferences have an estimated start time of “morning”, you will probably want warmer layers than you will need come lunch time or even in the afternoon. At least, that is certainly the case in Western Australia. This is especially true when the venue at which the event is being held can simply not cart for the amount of people milling around and all the hot air being thrust upon an unsuspecting crowd. Once the finishing drinks are done (read: close to midnight), you will need those early morning layers again on your way home. Layers, my friends, are urge key to survival no matter what Bear Grylls might say.

    • Pack thy charger

If you an on using any kind of electronic device at all, pack your device’s charger and label it and hold onto it for dear life. By all means, be generous and allow others to borrow it but, no matter how credible you think people might be, if your charger is not labelled with your name, you will lose it at some point throughout the day. Better yet, if you can, have your gear colour coded or otherwise clearly designated in such a way that no one would dream of pinching it.

    • Don’t mob the speaker

They’re tired. They probably travelled a long way to make it to your event. They’ve slept in a strange bed, eaten strange food and been surrounding by lovely (but draining) fans all day. Let them have a moment to themselves. If you simply must engage with them! make it short and simple and leave them to have their well deserved drink or canapé. This is unless, of course, they make it explicitly clear they don’t mind at all you hanging around, in which case – go for it!

As I said, this is not an exhaustive list, so if you have some other rules you think should be included, please feel free to add it to the comments below!

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Running a conference or convention? You need to read to read this.

Why?
Every conference.
Every single conference…

“Here is the wifi password: XXXXXXXXXX1234.”

The hamster starts running in the wheel…

Aaaaaand, has a heart attack.

Conference attendees beat their heads against their iThings and other devices.
The tweet feed slows to a dull roar, then a trickle … Then … Stops.

Every time.

Why?

Venues do not seem able to comprehend the idea that while they may deal with conferences all the time, that more people are bringing more devices to a conferences in order to record all their brains may not be able to capture. Not only that, but they still want to be able to keep up with their own tweet feeds and Facebook pages. Needless to say, while it may be a good enough wifi service for small numbers of people, it simply cannot shingle the load of attendees carrying two or three devices, all to which have notifications on for multiple apps, and are trying to get their emails at the same time as tweeting and blogging.

I’m not sure what the solution is to this. I know in the past, I have worked for events at have one dedicated wifi for the official bloggers and one for the rest of the attendees. Even then, the strain was too much, it broke on a few occasions, and I was forced to resort to using my cellular data in the interim while the problem was solved.

Another pet peeve, and some may well see this as a bit of “gimme gimme”, with all the different devices being employed, and with the drive to tweet away to your heart’s content, or “follow the event on the following hash tag”, why do events not think of setting up a bank of power boards. I’m not suggesting that they supply an array of various charge cables for the different devices out there. People should bring their own! What I am suggesting is that we admit that we are a power-hungry society, meaning electricity but you can read into that what you will, and cater to that need. Want people to tweet? Let them, but provide them with a means to charge their devices so they can.

Ahem…

I will now return you to your normal programming.

Promo Flier.

Promo Flier.

Just a little bit of background to this image.

I am currently studying through Open Universities Australia at Curtin University in the Internet Studies Department (curiously enough, Western Australia is the only state to have a dedicated Internet Studies department!). I am working towards a Bachelor of Arts in Internet Communications, which is to say I will have a degree which a lot of techies will laugh at because it’s not a science degree and a lot of artsies will laugh at because it’s not a “real” arts degree. But you know what? This has been one of the biggest rollercoasters of my life. I am now in my second year of three full-time. I have never been so challenged or felt so accomplished when I see a good grade on my assignments. There have been failings, sure, but on the whole they have been minor (except for that one eeeeeeevil time with the Unit-that-shall-not-be-named but that will be fixed next study period).

Yes, my work load averages out to be rather minor. It’s by no stretch of the imagination a law degree. However, in order to be at the top of my game, I need to know what is going on in the world of social media and the like. As it’s an ever evolving field of study, there’s a fair amount of online reading that needs to be done. Up until now, all the “creative” work for any of my units has been done through a program called Comic Life (they can be seen here and here), so it was time for something different.

I have been involved in a couple of conferences this year already. The first was Swancon 2012, where I got “included” (read: held at gun-point by someone I once though of as a dear friend) on a panel about Firefly ten years later, with absolutely no preparation time whatsoever! I swam rather than sinking. The second was the Media140 event, which I was self-appointed Tweet-Queen. Again, swam rather than sinking. The third has been the Net204/504 CommUnity online conference about communities and networks online (strangely enough) which, granted, has been for university. However, when my tutor posted in the study group that we had been approached by the co-working, collaborative group setting up in Perth, SpaceCubed,  to hold a physical addition to our online conference, I thought it was too good an opportunity to pass up. There was a bit of a delay, as we needed minimum numbers and there was a general buzz as logistics were set up. I may have gotten a teeny tiny bit worked up about it, given that this is exactly the sort of collaboration I hope to make professional relationships with in the coming years. I guess I caught the eye of the tutor, because she has asked me to organise the event. Well, I may have been the only person putting their hand up.

So, I have had to face a fear: Photoshop. By face, I mean find ways around dealing with. You see, Photoshop and I do not have the chummiest of relationships. We love to hate one another. So, instead I use Seashore. By use, I mean go through each menu option until I find something that works, employing the old “Command+Z” if it doesn’t (yes, I’m on a Mac. So what?). Now, I am not the most artistic of people. Not by a long shot, so when I stepped away from my trials of the flier and was okay with what I had at that point, I was actually pretty happy, especially given that I had managed it with minimum hair pulling, teeth gnashing and general furniture destruction of frustration. Needless to say, the final edition which you see above is the culmination of years of trial and error (mostly error) and a day and a half of near-enough-to-say-it-happened keyboard/head/banging action.

Yes, there are some out there who could have achieved this in a matter of minutes. You know what? Power to them. I couldn’t have. Yes, I used some fairly rudimentary editing “skills” (what? a mallet is a skill, right?) to make it work. But I came out of it unscathed. My computer is all in one piece, and not a single piece of furniture was harmed in the making of this flier.