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The Super Easy Guide to Everything You Wanted to Know About How to be Awesome at a Conference

Jonathan Wallace

As rubyists, we do not suffer for a lack of conferences. Nor for Rails events. Each and every one of these conferences allows us to showcase one of the foundational strengths of ruby, our community.

To be an awesome conference attendee, an amazing community member, and get the most out of any conference, follow our super easy guide to being awesome at a conference. Or, alternatively, what I did wrong at RailsConf 2012.

RailsConf 2012 wasn’t my first conference. In fact, I can officially brandish my grizzled conference bona fides now that I’ve attended rubyconf twice, railsconf, a handful of regional ruby/rails conferences, along with a few non-ruby/rails related conferences.

It has taken me a while but I finally have the Cliff Notes version of what it takes to get the most out of a conference. Following these five simple rules will not only ensure that you get the maximum value, but also that you’ll be one of the people that makes the conference more awesome.

1. Presentations are conversation catalysts.

Yes, yes, presentations are great ways for you to learn about new techniques, tools and/or war stories but don’t stress about noting every detail. Instead, focus on the high notes. What are you going to talk about with others? What further questions would you have for the speaker? After all, you can go back and get the details again later; they’re usually recorded.

2. Don’t try to do everything.

I’ve found that I do everything, and I mean everything, really well… for the first half of the conference and then I struggle to pull myself together for the last half. I attend ALL the talks, take copious notes, attend all the sponsored events, and then socialize some more… and then I crash. Pace yourself for maximum value and enjoyment.

3. Don’t work.

Don’t try to work. Don’t plan to work. Don’t plan to think about work. Instead, plan to meet people. Plan to talk about problems you’ve had. Plan to discuss solutions you’ve discovered. Plan to talk about your goals. Plan to talk about your immediate goals, your five, ten and fifteen year goals. Plan to talk about your pie-in-the-sky goals. This leads us to rule #4.

4. Do have your elevator pitch ready.

In fact, have three of them ready. What do you do? Why do you do it? What do you want to do? You should have a one sentence summary for each of these questions that acts as a great starting point for further discussion.

5. Do have business cards.

I love bump. I want bump to work and most of the time it does. But nothing compares to the speed and ease of swapping business cards. Have some. Have them on you. Give them out. And get others in return.

All the rules facilitate interactions with people. People make the conference. Make sure you are making the conference the most it can be.

What are your favorite strategies for a successful conference attendance?

Image credit: Jaco Pretorius

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