Top 5 Tips for Attending a Conference

  • September 26, 2014
  • INK Team

This post comes from INK alumna Caroline Pullen.

I’ve always loved this quote from Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.”

While I didn’t exactly entangle myself in Christmas lights or tromp around in my rain boots singing, I did suffer through the frustration that is lost luggage. If I were to re-word Maya’s wise quote to fit my recent experience, it would read more like this: “I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: lost luggage, delayed flight and no cell phone charger.”

A few weeks ago, I ventured back to San Francisco to attend TechCrunch Disrupt, my very first tech conference as an INKer. Having lived in San Francisco working in tech PR, I knew Disrupt was the mecca for start-ups and tech reporters. This is the place where the next Airbnb, Uber and Tinders go – and I had to experience it.

I was determined to be fully prepared: I did my research, checked the boxes off my list for each item that I packed, made sure I had a ridiculous amount of business cards, (which was the reason my luggage was overweight), and committed the conference agenda to memory. Despite my best efforts, I learned more from trial and error and unplanned events like lost luggage, than I did my “thorough research.” Here are my top 5 takeaways and tips from my experience attending TechCrunch Disrupt.

1.    Your souvenir? A collection of business cards.

Networking is the golden egg of conferences. As I began to pick up on this notion, I started to treat exchanging business cards as if I were adding them to my valuable Pokemon card collection. The thing I tried to keep in mind as I met dozens of individuals was to find common ground and foster a friendship rather than approaching everyone with a hidden agenda. No one likes being pitched straight off the bat. So I bit my tongue when meeting journalists and asked them questions about themselves, learned their interests and handed them a beer when they were running low.

2.    You can never be too prepared.

Although I thought I made all arrangements to a T, I failed to factor in the possibility of weather, flight delays and lost luggage. When I landed in San Francisco, my luggage did not land with me. While standing in the Southwest terminal filling out a lost luggage claim, I was kicking myself for not throwing in a back-up change of clothes that I could wear to the conference. Because of that, I missed Uber’s CEO’s panel, one that I was looking forward to catching. Moral of the story: when attending a professional conference, have a change of clothes in your carry-on.

3.    Be socially engaged.

 It was so much fun getting to take over INK’s Twitter account and live-tweet the event. At one point, I even tweeted out, “Hey! #ATX start-up attending #TCDisrupt? INK wants to meet you! Look for this girl → [insert goofy picture of myself holding up my conference badge].” But guess what? It worked! A few Austin folks recognized me while walking around at the conference from my tweet. Furthermore, I tweeted quotes & stories that came out of the conference and got re-tweeted from Re/Code, a kick ass tech outlet that we frequently work with. At conferences like this, there’s no such thing as being too socially engaged.

4.    Step up, and follow-up.

This is something that can apply to all aspects of my life – personally and professionally. On a professional level, rather than simply exchanging business cards, have a pleasant conversation and leave it at that, then send a follow-up email. Think they won’t remember you? Throw in something personal from your conversation. Even if you get no response, or you think it goes unnoticed – think again. It IS noticed.

 5.    Stay the whole time.

I’m infamous among my friends for the Irish goodbye. You know, slipping out a little bit early hoping no one notices? That’s the one. Well, I had to say buh-bye to Irish good-byes at this conference. I got there early, I stayed the entire time, I listened to all the speakers when I wasn’t wandering around the floor, and I went to the after-parties. Not to party so much as to continue conversations and casually network over cocktails. At the first night’s after-party, I noticed that I kept seeing the same familiar face all day at the conference, and finally, we met at the after-party. Lo and behold, it was 2013 hacker of the year Sarah Austin.

I have to say that when I learned that INK invests in their employees by sending each of us to a conference of choice, I was floored. I was already sold, but this made me feel even more confident that I’m at the right company, one that cares about my professional development and invests in my future.

If you have the chance to attend a conference, be it for personal or professional reasons, go all out! Collect business cards, shake hands, scribble down notes in your Evernote app, learn as much as you can, and stay until the very end. And remember to hold your head high, rain or shine, luggage or no luggage.

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