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With 2017 approaching, you may be looking ahead to see which conferences you’ll want to attend. Deciding among the many choices is half the battle—or half the fun! Samuel Scott of blogged an impressive list of nearly 200 major tech, IT, and DevOps conferences slated for next year, and the list is growing.

How do you get the most out of tech conferences? First, determine what you want to gain from the conference. Are you looking to gain new knowledge in specific topic areas? Are you looking to gain as much new information as possible? Are you primarily attending to network with new people? Are you looking to find a new job or investigate relevant services? Maybe some or all these reasons? Determine what your goals are and then, with those goals in mind, use these tips:

Before the Conference

  • Plan your travel days carefully. For example, you may not want to arrive or depart on days that you also plan to attend sessions or activities.
  • Allow room in your luggage for the materials you collect during the conference. Alternatively, you might plan to have conference materials mailed back; conferences often arrange for shipping services on site.
  • Know in advance where your hotel accommodations are in relation to the conference, and plan adequate time to get to conference sessions and activities.Practice introducing yourself beforehand. Seriously. A great introduction would be something like, “Hi, I’m Garret Smith. I’m a [fill in your role or title here] for [fill in company name or industry] in [your city or area].” And practice aloud, not just in your head. Better yet, practice with your spouse, a coworker, or friend, and check your handshake, eye contact, and body language, too.
  • Pack comfortable shoes. Period.
  • Pack business cards.
  • Plan that you’ll probably be developing a trip report for your employer if they paid for the conference and travel.
During the Conference
  • Consider the session format when choosing sessions to attend. Conferences typically offer a variety of session formats–such as presentations, workshops, demonstrations, and progressions–that each require (or invite) different levels of attendee participation. Examine the types of sessions at the conference, and choose ones that suit your preferences and needs.
  • Find out what prerequisite knowledge you need for each session, and do your homework ahead of time, if necessary. You will get more out of a session if you have the knowledge base expected, rather than trying to catch up during the session itself.
  • Plan which sessions you want to attend ahead of time, and have multiple backup sessions in mind in case ones you want to attend are full or canceled. Also, be sure to reevaluate your plan when you get to the conference. Sometimes sessions and speakers may change between the preliminary program and the final program, which may affect which sessions you choose to attend.
  • Prioritize sessions and activities; you likely won’t be able to do everything you hope to do. If necessary, plan breaks or a lighter schedule prior to key sessions or activities to ensure you are adequately fresh for them.
  • Plan a balance of sessions and other scheduled activities that suits your needs. In addition to attending sessions, for example, you may want to attend luncheons and banquets. And, of course, you’ll want to visit the Linux Academy booth and other vendors in the exhibition area.
  • Exchange cards with people you meet. And while conversations are still fresh in your mind, jot down a detail or two on the card about what you chatted about or what you want to follow up on. After a dizzying few days at a conference, you’ll be glad to have tidbits to remind you!
  • Arrive at the session rooms as early as possible. Sessions fill up quickly, and you’ll want to arrive early to help ensure you can attend the sessions you want.
  • Take every opportunity to talk with people–all sorts of people, including attendees, presenters, conference coordinators, exhibit vendors, and so on. In addition to networking, you can learn as much (or more) outside of conference sessions as you can in the sessions.
  • Schedule time for yourself. Attending sessions, networking, and just being “on” all day can be exhausting. Schedule time for yourself to absorb what you’ve learned, organize your thoughts, re-energize, and prepare for the next session, activity, or day.
  • Enjoy the host city. Conference packets usually highlight what’s close by and easy to attend. You might also ask the hotel staff for other ideas and brochures.
After the Conference

  • Reach out via LinkedIn or email to the people you connected with at the conference. Remind them who you are (they’ll have networked with dozens if not hundreds of people, too!), and be proactive in building and maintaining your network.
  • Write that trip report. Summarize the sessions you attended, the knowledge you gained, and the potential application of new knowledge, tools, and connections is good etiquette.
  • Thank your boss.

Good luck, and come see us at the Linux Academy booth!

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