I have been chatting to Don Taylor about the upcoming Learning Technologies conference. Via the wonder that is Twitter, I have discovered that some of my tweeps are coming along to what will be their very first conference and they're feeling a little apprehensive.
Of course, screeds of stuff has been written about conferences and how to make the most of them and and and, so this is just me adding my twopen'orth.
So many of us attend online events these days, even if it's just a tweetchat. So we've grown accustomed to swooping in for the designated hour or two and swooping back out again to return to life-as-usual (which may even involve going back to bed, if the time difference was unkind). Since the technology exists to attend conferences online, I would suggest that it is very important to home in on the value-added of a face to face event, and capitalise heavily on that.
You can attend presentations in an online conference. You can take part in the group-wide back channel text chat. Sometimes, you can fire off a private message to an individual attendee (depending on the platform being used and what the moderators are doing with it). You can raise questions.
But now you're travelling a few miles, or a few hundred miles. As well as your travel costs, you may be running up a travel and subsistence bill. You are also (if it isn't too indelicate of me to point it out) increasing your carbon footprint. So, I suggest, you put in a little effort to make it a worthwhile exercise.
So what can't you do (readily) online?
- Introduce yourself to the people who sit on either side of you. Exchange business cards/v cards.
- Go up and introduce yourself to the speaker.
- Take note of the person who asks the question/shares the anecdote that resonates with you, and go and exchange business cards/v cards at the end of the session.
- Participate in the small group discussions. Don't deprive the rest of the group of your perspective - you might just provide someone's lightbulb moment.
- Ask questions/make observations. While you can do this online, my experience is that people are more reluctant to take the mike, and will make almost exclusive use of the back channel (although some find that distracting and disable it)
- Put faces to names. Discover that the person you consider lofty and exalted is just human.
- Get eyeball to eyeball with the person/people with whom you've had a long running exchange of views online... or the person you've been following from afar (don't be shy, you may never get another chance).
- Hole up in a corner with a few people who face similar challenges to your own.
- Have a tweet up.
- Introduce yourself to presenters of sessions you're not attending. There is usually a speakers' room, so if they have work to do, they'll take refuge there - if they're in the common area, they're fair game. ;o)
- Go out for lunch with someone who can serve as a sounding board for your latest wacky idea.
- Take a stroll around the exhibition (if the conference coincides with one).
- Take in local sights - especially if you've travelled abroad - preferably with someone local.