The Do's and Don'ts of This Year's Hottest Conferences
CES. TED. SXSW. WTF.
Everywhere you look -- there's a new conference, such as Disrupting Disruptors Hackathon 2014 (I hear its speaker lineup is NUTS.).
It can be overwhelming, entrepreneur or not -- to figure out which of the myriad of conferences that span tech, social good, entrepreneurship and film are worth the high price of admission. Some of the conferences are invite only, as well. So I've culled some conference "pro tips," if you will, from a variety of sources that will help you wade through the clutter, as well as conferences to look forward to this year.
The first thing when deciding on a conference, of course, is the price of the ticket as well as travel expenses. It's great if you get an invite to a highly-anticipated event, but if it requires three flights, it's something to consider in overall returns. If you can get a client or your company to send you, all the better.
Beyond the finances -- it's key to try to evaluate what you'll be getting from the talks, lunches, and break-out sessions. There can be a number of metrics -- from number of people you meet to potential client opportunities to personal brand building. Decide your goals and then go from there.
Trying to master the conference game is tough, but I pulled in a group from technology, entrepreneurship, finance and beyond to tell me which conferences they're looking forward to, what to expect and what to avoid when on the conference circuit.
Take it Easy
Conference: SXSW -- March 7-16
Do: "Take it easy. I used to go so hard, trying to meet everyone, but taking the time to sit and grab a drink or wait in the long truck food line is not only more enjoyable, but usually leads to meeting people in a more sincere context."
Don't: "Get ugly drunk. Just don't."
Soak Up Everything
Conference: TED -- March 17-21
Do: "Sit in one of the first few rows and soak up everything."
Don't: "Feel as if you need to work the room. Your goal rather is to meet a small collection of kindred spirits and to pick up a few new ideas that radically change your view of the world."
Nilofer Merchant, author, speaker, entrepreneur, tech executive
Conference: Dent 2014 -- March 23-26
Do: "I plan a dinner or cocktail hour in some unbooked conference time, then curate people who should meet one another. One of the best gifts any of us can give another is a high-quality introduction between people who should know each other. It lets me serve that introvert part of myself where I can know who I'm going to meet but also to serve others in creating connections. And it guarantees I see the 10 people I really want to connect with. Those relationships tend to therefore be deeper ones."
Don't Give or Take Cards
Conference: Cannes Lions -- June 15-21
Do: "Take analog notes and visual sketches. After tweeting and live-blogging my fingers off in my early career, I realized that I wasn't retaining and remembering information like I did when I would note take back in school. So I made a drastic switch: I carry a moleskin notepad in which I write key thoughts and include visual sketches. Shorthand as my thoughts and crude as my drawings are, they help me absorb and remember the material more than just typing it or sharing it out in the ether."
Don't: "Give out or take cards. Instead, I have new contacts write their name, email and favorite X (ice cream flavor, Disney movie, word) down in my moleskin. It is way more memorable, personal, and avoids that otherwise transactional and even robotic feeling you get when you are exchanging cards. The onus is then on me to follow up with something equally memorable when I link in with or email them."
Warn Your Twitter Followers About Live Tweets
Conference: Spark Camp -- June 20
Do: "Bring enough business cards. I always see entrepreneurs who underestimate the number they'll need, and watch as they scribble their names and email addresses on scraps of paper. By the time I'm back in my office, I find that I often can't read what was written and have already forgotten the company name."
Don't: "Start live-tweeting your conference experience without first warning your followers and reminding them that they have the option to mute you. That goes for both individuals and companies (startups and news media included)."
Finish Your Work Beforehand
Sally Kohn, political columnist at Daily Beast
Conference: Netroots Nation -- July 17-20
Do: "My pro tip, ashamed as I am to admit it? Skip the panels. I'm on plenty of panels, but I never go to them -- I think it's a dying format and unless it's done incredibly well, panels just suck the air out of topics."
Don't: "I try to clear my deck of work while I'm at the conference. Why fly all the way to a conference to hide in my hotel room and write on my computer or be on conference calls? Plus if I don't have much other work to do, it forces me to find interesting side events to go to or just wander around the main lobby and talk to whomever looks interesting."
Make a Plan
Whitney Johnson, investor and author
Conference: Dare, Dream, Do, Disrupt! Conference -- Aug. 22-23
Do: "Try to find out if there's a list of attendees. Find out who's going and make a plan to meet people."
Don't: "Go without a plan! If your plan is to just go with the flow, that's fine, but if you've got goals, put a little time into figuring out which sessions are most important to you, who you want to meet and what you want to get out of it. Also, while business cards are great, spend more time getting to know people vs. just handing out or collecting cards."
Get Off the Phone
Tina Wells, Buzz Marketing Group
Social Good Summit -- Sept. 15-18
Do: "Be open to meeting anyone and everyone -- it's not just about the keynote speakers but it's about the keynote listeners as well! Remember that all of you are attending out of interest, so tap into that enthusiasm."
Don't: "Spend all of your time on your phone or live-tweeting events. Make sure you actually pay attention to the big and small ideas that are sure to pop up at gatherings like these."
Meredith Fineman is the founder of FinePoint Digital PR, which specializes in personal profile raising and helping leaders find their voice, online and offline. Fineman is also a freelance writer with nine years of experience and has been published in outlets such as Harvard Business Review, LifeHacker, The Washington Post and Travel & Leisure.