Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Your very first conference?

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?

During/after sessions

  • 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)
Use breaks/evenings to
  • 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.
I'm sure there are several more things you can do. But those are my 'starters for 10'. And if you're coming to Learning Technologies, come and find me and say hello!


Mattias said...

Hi Karyn,

Great post! Especially for me as I am definitely part of the target group for this post. I will for sure follow some of your suggestions.

I just realised that I don't have any business cards. We simply don't use them at IKEA. Maybe I have to buy some blank ones that I can fill in on the go :-)

Thanks again and hope to see you at LT11UK.

The upsycho said...

@Mattias I had you in mind when I wrote it. If you don't have business cards, you can rely on vcards from phone to phone.

Perhaps we should persuade Don to print a QR code on each person's badge for next year, then we can collect each other's details by scanning QR codes with smartphones. ;o)

Craig Taylor said...

QR codes are going to get a least a couple of mentions from Paul Simbeck-Hampson and myself during our session, so it seems like a good idea to further integrate them at LT12.

Will be interesting to see if any if the exhibitors are using them and how.

The upsycho said...

@Craig It will indeed. However, I have to say that I have always found that there is a time warp halfway down the stairs at LT. At the conference, the message that is being preached is learner empowerment, social learning, embedded learning, strategic learning, just in time, etc. But downstairs, most of the vendors seem to be preaching a completely different message and selling tools to keep doing things 'the old way'.

Mattias said...

Hmmm QR codes, that's a good idea. I could actually create a QR code, print it on a sticker and put it on my cell phone (or on my forehead, that way anyone taking a picture of me also gets all the basic information about me ;-) ). Pretty neat idea.

About the two worlds: experienced exactly the same thing at a conference here in Sweden a couple of months ago. The messages in the sessions had not reached out into the vendors in the exhibition area.


Clark said...

Great post, Karyn. Let me add preparation beforehand, figuring out what questions you want answered when you leave. Tony Karrer's got some great stuff here:

For Mattias, rather than just your cellphone, link to your blog (if you've got one) or some other page with coordinates: email, etc. Facebook, LinkedIn? If you're letting them snap your QR code, make it worth their while ;)

Paul said...

Liking the QR Code chatter on this post... Do you think a real tattoo is too much? ;)

The upsycho said...

@Clark Thanks for that link. I was looking for that very post, but couldn't remember enough about it to track it down.
@Paul Wa-ay too much. You're venturing into mark-of-the-beast territory there!

Mattias said...


The maintenance of a tattoo is quite a hassle, so it might be quite a bad idea.

But maybe this is the solution you are looking for:

Just think about where you place it, could cause some embarrasing moments when people want to scan it if you choose a too private location.