The Dos and Don’ts of Conferences
By Adrienne Beason, Staff Writer
Young entrepreneur, Daniel Yona, has recently returned from DevTeach – a Vancouver conference by developers for developers. After the five-day long events, he returned to his home on Vancouver Island tired – yet buzzing with creative energy, ideas and notes about how he made the most of his epic conference experience.
A little preparation goes a long way towards minimizing the time you spend running around… while maximizing your learning experience…
DevTeach storms into town annually at the end of May and spills over into June. It covers everything from behaviour driven development to Ruby on Rails to cross platform mobile architecture, or in non-techie speak, how to build Android and iPhone stuff. These topics are featured in one-hour sessions by speakers from all over the tech world. The event also features a tradeshow and opportunity for some serious mingling. Who attends? Highly skilled programmers and developers. Why? With a chance to get a handle on the latest cutting-edge technologies, to ask industry professionals about solutions to existing problems affecting their businesses, and to learn enough to teach colleagues back home, what motivated developer could refuse?
At 23, Yona is the founder of Yonasis Interactive (www.yonasis.com), a web development company that has recently branched into mobile app development. Despite a saturated market, the company has managed to grow its clientele over the last three years – a fact, which he attributes to staying on top of new developments in the industry.
So how does one get ready for a conference like DevTeach? A little preparation goes a long way towards minimizing the time you spend running around like a chicken with your head cut off, while maximizing your learning experience, which is why Yona suggests obtaining the schedule beforehand so you know where you’re going and when. Rather than relying on a session title and short description, which are designed to sell the sessions, read ahead: generally speakers upload their presentations to the website prior to their talks. Even spending 5 minutes can create a world of context and a better understanding of the topic going in. This will help you decide if you should bother attending a session that may end up being a waste of time in the context of your speciality.
In addition to researching the topic, there is a lot to be learned from researching the speakers themselves. A lot of speakers write articles and books, and if you read their previous material and measure it against what you know, you can judge if they’re talking out their butts.
“You’d like to think that everyone there is an expert on their material, but, sadly, that is not always the case,” Yona states.
If possible, try to enquire what the prerequisites might be for the sessions you are planning to attend. Because speakers have to assume that everyone is at a certain level, it’s your job to make sure that you don’t waste time struggling through a session that is way over your head. If the prerequisites are not listed, contact speakers directly.
“All the speakers were really open about people contacting them, so it shouldn’t be a problem where you need to worry you’re bothering them,” Yona mentions.
In preparation for particularly practical sessions, such as software demonstrations, install the program before you go. This way, it will be possible to follow along during the tutorial and the chance that the info will register in your mind is much higher.
“Definitely go with a laptop,” Yona says. “Some people had iPads, and I guess that worked for them… but it doesn’t seem as quick,” he comments.
Best of all, download the speaker’s PowerPoint presentation before the session. Load it during, then add your own notes in the notes field beside each slide as you go. This will be far more efficient than trying to frantically take down everything they’re saying. He also suggests researching the topic via wi-fi as the speaker covers the background info you may already know.
Another note surrounding preparation is to be sure to book a hotel as close to the venue as possible. Accommodation fills up fast, but if you are on the ball enough to book a few months or weeks in advance, you greatly reduce the risk of being late and missing things.
Companies are wise to send more than one employee. Often in that scenario the event will offer businesses a deal, and employees can divide and conquer, establishing excellent cross-teaching opportunities, as sessions occur in parallel.
And how about at the conference itself?
If you’re going to try to network, don’t forget to bring a decent business card – and enough of them. However, Yona says that conferences tend to fill up with like-minded attendees and there aren’t a lot of networking opportunities if everyone is trying to sell the same products to everyone else.
During meals and mixers, try to chat up as many peers as possible. Regardless of whether or not the sessions are any good, the varying perspectives of your fellow attendees is invaluable. If there is a time for being shy, this is not it. What sessions did you attend? is always a good ice-breaker. Or, if you recognize that you and another attended the same session, it’s easy enough to ask what they thought of it and hopefully kindle a conversation from there. Asides from the point of view of others, creating potential for collaboration or teaming up to solve problems is one of the hidden benefits to attending a conference.
“There was definitely a buzz in the air,” Yona laughs. “There was a lot of speculation about the three mobile OSs and whether Windows is going to catch up.”
Yona’s most unexpected piece of advice is: don’t be afraid to leave a session in the middle if you are absolutely sure that it isn’t going in a direction that is useful to you. Pay attention to sit close to the door. (And near a socket – your laptop battery is never going to survive a day of sessions!) It’s better to enter a different, more beneficial session after missing the first 15 minutes, than to stay in one you’re not going to get anything out of for the next 45. Also, he cautions against attending session beyond your knowledge level in hopes that they’ll illuminate the topic. There likely isn’t time to introduce you to a topic and bring you up to speed in an hour.
As a matter of fact, Yona said that he got the most out of the pre-conference and post-conference sessions. At five hours in length with the same teacher, these bootcamps, as they are called, have time to get much more in depth than the one hour tutorials.
“Often with the shorter sessions, instructors just get to the meat of the topic and it’s time to go. With time running out, they rush quite a bit, which is never good,” Yona says. “I attended the Android bootcamp and that filled in a lot of blanks.”
While he didn’t manage to book a hotel in the nearby vicinity and his laptop got tuckered out before he did, Yona feels that he made the most of his conference experience and learned enough to create new offerings, branch out into more platforms and take his business to the next level.
Business News with BITE.
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