As the General Manager of Interop, “the leading independent technology conference and expo designed to inspire, inform, and connect the world’s IT community,” Jennifer “JJ” Jessup knows exactly what makes tech conferences beneficial: the people. Whether an attendee, vendor, buyer, teacher, or keynote speaker, it’s the people who attend Interop and similar tech conferences who make such events worthwhile.
Attending tech conferences can be costly in terms of travel and lodging, as well as in opportunity costs such as time spent away from “actual” work. Jessup believes proper planning is an essential component of getting the most out of such trips. Here are her 10 tips to help IT professionals planning to attend Interop, or other events.
1. Know why you’re attending
Look at the conference’s keynotes and workshops and “map that to your current priorities in the office.” Talk to your boss or co-workers who aren’t attending and see if there are particular breakouts that would benefit the team. Consider your personal and professional goals, and how they relate to your reasons for attending.
2. Plan your show before you get on the plane
Many conference-goers are guilty of planning their schedule while on the way to the event. Jessup suggests that better pre-show planning takes place at least a few weeks beforehand so that you can have a better idea of the exact keynotes and workshops you want to attend. Plus, earlier planning often means better success for suggestion number three.
3. Contact those you want to meet before the conference
There’s always at least one person at a tech conference you’re likely dying to meet, whether it’s because they are a noted thought-leader in your area, because you have a mutual connection, or for any other number of reasons. By contacting this person before the event, you may be able to set up a casual meeting that isn’t distracted by throngs of people also vying for that person’s attention. Furthermore, you’ll set yourself apart by engaging that person in a one-to-one conversation.
4. Get your head out of your phone
This may be the most difficult suggestion, especially for tech conference attendees. However, the shortened amount of time you have for connecting with other people at these events means you have to keep your head up and your eyes open. Try to leave your work for the hours you’re at your hotel, and try to only use your phone when you’re connecting online with someone you’ve just met in real life.
5. Look for serendipitous moments
In keeping your head up, you’re more likely to experience happenstance moments that could lead to future breakthroughs, like a chance meeting in an elevator with that one keynote speaker who inspired your work. As Jessup and many others can attest, “You can’t underestimate [those moments], so just always have your eyes open.”
6. Have an open mind
In a similar fashion, it’s important to also have an open mind. Talk to others who aren’t in your same discipline. Don’t hover in the huddles that make you feel safe because you all know the same information. Challenge yourself to be challenged by others.
7. Learn, don’t compete
Jessup advises rival Silicon Valley companies with this when they attend Interop: “They wouldn’t necessarily talk or be so friendly in a normal, everyday environment, but on the trade show floor, they have to be talking to each other, and they really learn from each other.” Go and do likewise.
8. Connect online after meeting in-person
An acceptable time to dig out your phone is when connecting online with someone you’ve just met. Whether you find them on Twitter or LinkedIn, or use your company’s own CRM solutions, make a point to trade contact information. This way, you’ll be able to follow up on your conversation in a week.
9. Share your knowledge once you get back
The best way to prove your company’s investment in sending you to a conference like Interop is to show your superiors and co-workers exactly what you’ve learned. Jessup shares that Interop strives to make this more of a reality by giving each attendee a “trip report” that tracks which booths they’ve visited and the classes they’ve attended.
10. Return next year
Though Jessup didn’t explicitly mention this, we think it’s a sensible suggestion. After all, returning to a popular technology conference in which you’ve already made real-world and online connections means further strengthening those bonds.
If the numerous workshops and keynotes fail to pique your interest, consider connecting with JJ on Twitter @jjessup44. To learn more about Interop, listen to the full TechnologyAdvice interview with Jennifer Jessup above.