By Miles Burke

Why You Should Attend Two Conferences a Year

By Miles Burke

The following is republished from The SitePoint Tribune #414.

On the eve of flying to Sydney for the Web Directions South conference, I thought I’d focus on the topic of conferences—I believe you should attend at least two every year.

So why attend a conference? Let’s start with education. You’ll learn more from attending one conference than all the books and blog posts you can read in one month. This may sound like a tall order, but seriously, if you are actively listening to the presenter, it’s hard not to learn more than by simply being there.

Secondly, the fact that you are there in person (as opposed to, say, listening to a podcast) means that you participate in the full experience; non-verbal cues (such as body language or facial expressions), as well as presentation slides and Q&A sessions that are normally cut from the podcast, are all factors that can make a session more rewarding, and provide valuable insights too.

Then there’s the networking. Some may derisively call it schmoozing, however, this is a very important benefit of conferences that should not be underestimated. The contacts that you can make by grabbing a meal or a coffee during a break can be worth the cost of the conference alone. I’ve won at least $50,000 worth of business just by attending the last two Web Directions South conferences–and that’s without even really trying!

I’ve also found that by socializing with the presenters, I learn more about their areas of expertise than by just watching them on stage. I’ve become friends with a few speakers as a result, and have regular email dialogue now with my international contacts.

So how can you benefit the most from attending a conference? Here are seven tips:

  1. Gain as much advance notice of the schedule as you can. Normally, with more than one stream, you’ll need to make some decisions–which presentations to watch and which ones to miss. You’ll want to read up on the presentation topics to ensure you make the best choices. Bring along a list of your preferred schedule to avoid missing an important session.
  2. Make contact beforehand with other delegates you know personally. If you’re going by yourself, you can arrange to meet for coffees and not feel so isolated. If you don’t know anyone attending, you might like to introduce yourself on the conference blog, or alternatively, search the blog posts for other like-minded attendees and arrange to meet up with them.
  3. Stay for the whole conference. Don’t get the day two doldrums and skip sessions. It goes without saying that the presentation you miss will be the one everyone raves about afterwards.
  4. Don’t be hesitant to ask questions. If they don’t cater for question time during the presentation, seek out the presenter at the break and ask them; you’ll be amazed at how approachable they are.
  5. Schmooze. You’ll meet loads of new people at the social events that accompany these conferences, who may eventually become friends, colleagues, employers, or clients. Be genuine though, and don’t set out to “work the room.”
  6. Buy the book. If they are selling books, get hold of the ones you believe you’ll benefit most from, and get them signed whilst you’re there. It’s a great souvenir of the conference and a valuable education tool as well.
  7. Find accommodation in the conference’s vicinity. You don’t want to be traipsing across a busy city every day, and you’ll probably need to charge that laptop or digital camera every so often.

Upcoming Conferences

Here are just 15 web conferences around the globe that are happening over the next six months. Choosing an event away from home also gives you a welcome opportunity (and excuse!) to travel.

Know of other web industry conferences? Please send the conference URL and any information to tribune@sitepoint.com for future editions. And if you are attending Web Directions South later this week, be sure to come up and say hi to myself and the rest of the SitePoint team.

  • Magnus

    Really good article with great tips!
    I find it to be quite hard to find good conferances that I’m able to attend, beeing from Sweden and working with interface development and user experience. For me the perfect one would be Future of Web Design in New York. Wich my employer didn’t agree with due to the cost of airplane tickets and staying at a hotel.

  • wil

    Not to say that good conferences don’t provide the gravitas you attribute to them Miles but the statement that “you’ll learn more from attending one conference than all the books and blog posts you can read in one month” strikes me as being untrue. Or at least inaccurate.
    I think self education from books, tutorials and (especially) professional training material is extremely hard to beat. The difficulty with them however is that in order to sustain that education you need enthusiasm for what you’re pursuing. Which hits on the real advantage of conferences as you mentioned in your second point; the getting involved, getting your feet wet and becoming *active*
    Thanks for the article, it’s reminded me why I need to get out more … perhaps to the next Web Directions South :)

  • Here’s another one for the list: OzeWAI

    OZeWAI is an annual conference that concentrates on Web accessibility. The tenth anniversary conference will be 21 – 23 January 2009 at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia.

    OZeWAI is relatively small so that people can meet one another and get to grips with issues. It has consistently had high quality international and national keynote speakers. It is a friendly conference with a strong government and university mix.

    The OSDC is also probably one worth including.

  • @ wil:

    Nup, Miles is spot-on. I work for myself, by myself in a regional setting – no regular work chat other than via the net. I’m self-educated in web stuff, all from books and self-contained home-based training material.

    All good, but it wasn’t until I started going to at least one conference a year that the whole thing turned into a business for me. At a technical level, I derived more context in one two-day conference than in the whole previous year’s learning.

    Listening to the presenters, talking to the presenters, talking to other attendees – there is no subsititute. When a Dave Shea or a Jeremy Keith explains a technique to me on the spot, it makes a lot more sense than the best written description in any book, including their own.

    Like Miles, I also get real work out of the conferences. I’ve been going to Web Directions since it was Essentials and I have made money out of what I learned and who I talked to at every one of them.

    I love the books (God bless Sitepoint and tuck her in safely at night), and they go a long way to explaining my craft, but it’s the conferences that help put what I learn into a practical context, and help me grow my business.

    I set myself a professional development budget each year, and split that between ivesting in books and tutorials, and in going to a couple of conferences a year. It pays off.

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