Category Archives: conference

Conference tips: planning your attendance

Make the most of your conference by planning which sessions to attend.

Think about your objectives. What do you want to learn? What will be useful in the long-term? If your organization is sending you to the conference, it’s a good idea to confirm your priorities, objectives, and session selections with your manager, and to be clear on what you should bring back from the conference.

Look speakers up. You can often get a sense of how interesting a speaker might be with a quick web search. Does the speaker blog? You’ll get a sense of their speaking style and depth. Does the speaker share presentations on sites like Slideshare? You may even find presentations similar to the one you’re planning to attend, which will help you make better decisions about whether you want to attend the session in person.

Consider the alternatives. Do you want to attend a presentation, or can you learn just as effectively from blog posts or articles? Depending on your learning style, you might find yourself fidgeting as a presenter explains something that you could’ve just read. Look for sessions on topics that haven’t been written about yet, or topics where you have plenty of questions. Keep an eye out for sessions that promise plenty of discussion time instead of taking up the entire session with a lecture. You’ll get more from your conference experience if you can ask questions and learn from other people’s questions.

Coordinate with others. Do you know other people who are planning to go to the conference? Coordinate your schedule with others so that you can maximize your coverage by exchanging notes. If your coworker is attending a session on one topic, you can attend a different one.

Identify Plan Bs. Plan alternative things to do or backup sessions to attend just in case a session finishes early, is rescheduled, or is a bad fit for you. (See my tips on the hallway track at conferences.)

Share your agenda. If you have a blog, consider posting your session choices and objectives there, omitting sensitive information as needed. This might lead to conversations with other people who are interested in the conference, other people who are planning to attend, and speakers who can help you figure out if a session is the right fit for you. Speakers might even modify their sessions based on what they read.

Making the most of the conference hallway track

The informal conversations you have in conference corridors in between sessions can help you learn a lot more and connect with more people than the planned sessions do. Here are some tips to help you make the most of the hallway track.

  • Before the conference

    Prepare by looking up people’s names and faces. Make a list of people you want to meet at the conference, like the speakers you’re interested in listening to or other participants you want to chat with. Review their names so that you can recognize them when you read people’s nametags. If possible, look up people’s pictures, too, so that you can spot them in a crowd.

    Make time by managing expectations. The gaps between sessions are NOT the time to check your e-mail or join conference calls. Prepare for the conference by setting your coworkers’ expectations. You’ll get the most out of the conference – and you’ll have the most to bring back – if no one expects you to constantly check e-mail or be available for meetings. Block the time off.

    Make time by being ruthless with conference agendas. If you really don’t see any sessions you might be interested in, or if the session you’re in turns out to be a waste of time for you, leave and check the hallway track. If no one’s in the hallway, you can slip into anohter session you were interested in.

    Be easy to find. Plan to make it easy for people to find you so that they can continue interesting conversations with you or introduce you to other people they think you should meet. One of my friends wears a green blazer to conferences, so that he’s easy to find in a crowd. I wear a hat. Make it easy for people to connect.

    Plan to take notes and exchange information. Don’t waste the time you spend talking. Bring a notebook or a PDA that you can use to write quick notes. Bring business cards, too – they’re still the most reliable way to give someone your contact information as a physical reminder to follow up.

    Set up meetings with people you really want to meet. Reconnecting with old colleagues? Really want to talk to a speaker? Don’t leave it up to chance. Find out where people are and arrange to meet them.

  • During the conference

    Give people excuses to talk to you. Make it easy for people to start a conversation with you about a topic of mutual interest. Write keywords on your nametag, or wear a second nametag with keywords on it. Going to a geek conference? Wear a T-shirt related to your project, and people will almost certainly ask you about it.

    Start the conversation. Yes, it can be scary, but the good news is that conferences give you natural conversation starters. Ask people what session they attended and what they learned from it. Ask people which sessions they’re looking forward to and why. Ask people what they’ve liked the most about the conference so far, and what would make it even better. Ask people what actions they’re planning to take based on what they’ve learned. There’s no need to stick to small talk about the weather or what people do.

    Expand the circle. If you want to open a conversation so that other people feel less awkward about joining it, don’t stand directly in front of the person you’re talking to; open things up so that you’re standing in an incomplete circle. See people hovering near the edge of your conversation? Invite them in and make them part of it. Connect the dots. Introduce people to each other, bring out shared interests, and make people feel comfortable.

    Look for homework. Make following up easier for yourself by looking for opportunities to give yourself homework. Find out how you can help the other person. Can you share your conference notes? Can you introduce them to other people? Can you help them with what they’re working on? Do you want to learn more about something they’re doing? Write that down and swap contact information. Now you have a reason for following up.

    Reinforce the connection. Unless you’re at a huge conference, you’ll probably see many of your new acquaintances a few times. Smile and wave to them. Chat with them and compare notes on the sessions people have attended. Introduce them to other people. Reinforce that connection so that following up is easier.

    Take breaks if you need them. Conferences can be overwhelming, particularly for introverts. Don’t be ashamed about taking a quiet break somewhere to recharge so that you can make the most of the rest of the day. I like taking a walk outside. I’ve sometimes napped in conference hallways so that I can be in good shape to give a presentation.

  • After the conference

    Review your notes and do your homework. Congrats! You’ve gotten through your conference. Now do the homework you’ve promised to do and follow up with the people you promised to get in touch with.

Old notes on staffing a virtual conference booth

It’s fantastic how a blog archive lets me pull up lessons learned from a virtual conference I helped at two years ago. Some of these tips from my internal blog post are platform-specific, but others might be useful.

Staffing the Social Networking booth at the Innovation in Action event. Here are quick tips:

  • Set up text shortcuts. You’ll need to type in a lot of text rapidly. The built-in Text Entries are not available when you’re sending an initial message or inviting someone to a chat, so type in some boilerplate text into Notepad and then copy and paste it. Messages you send from the booth will be marked as from your booth name, so include your name and e-mail address in your message. Advanced tip: use AutoHotkey to create a text macro. Install it from AutoHotkeyInstaller.exe, create a file like shortcuts.ahk (customize this of course), then double-click shortcuts.ahk to make it part of your system. Example shortcuts.ahk:
    ::!hello::Welcome to the IBM social networking booth. I’m Sacha Chua ([email removed]), a consultant who helps organizations figure out what Web 2.0 is, how it fits with their strategy, how to implement it, and how to make the most of it. Please feel free to ask me questions by sending a note or inviting me to chat. What can I help you with?
    ::!tapscott::Hello and welcome to the IBM social networking booth. I’m Sacha Chua ([email removed]), an IBM consultant who helps organizations figure out what Web 2.0 is, how it fits with their strategy, how to implement it, and how to make the most of it. What did you think of Don Tapscott’s keynote? Please feel free to start a chat if you want to talk about it or if you have any questions about social networking.

    After that, you’ll be able to type !hello into anywhere and have it expanded. To update, edit shortcuts.ahk and then double-click it again.

  • Check people’s visitor histories. The visitor history will tell you about any messages sent from or to this booth, if the visitor has been to this booth before, and so on. Great way to make sure you don’t send a message twice.
  • Send people messages and invite them to chat with you. You can initiate only one chat at a time, and you have to wait for the person to accept or reject the invitation before inviting another person. You can send as many messages as you want, though, and you can have as many open chats as you want.
  • Send yourself follow-up requests after conversations. Your goal in each conversation is to find out what people are interested and give yourself an excuse to follow up. After you get that, use the [i] button on the right (your chat partner’s profile) to display the profile, then use the Followup button to send yourself a copy of the person’s visitor history. WARNING: There’s some delay when selecting names from the list, so double-check that you’re sending the right person’s information.
  • Pull in experts. Need help answering a question? Tell the visitor you’re bringing someone in, then click on the expert’s profile, choose Invite to chat, and choose the chat session you want the expert to join.

Non-obvious things:

  • Your name will not be associated with any messages (from or to), so don’t count on being able to quickly see replies from people or find out what you sent someone.
  • The sorting buttons on the lists sort only the displayed entries, not all the entries. Entries will always be arranged chronologically, although in-page sorting may be different. Don’t count on being able to use this to see all the messages sent by visitors. Just leave it on Date.
  • If someone leaves your booth while you’re trying to check their visitor history, their info box disappears.
  • As people enter and leave the booth, odd things happen to the page. Be prepared to have to find people again.
  • Things get much quieter when people are listening to sessions. Eat or rest during those times.

What I learned from The Art of Marketing

I learned a lot from the Art of Marketing conference even before it started. To take advantage of someone else’s affiliate link discount and the group ticket purchase, I coordinated a group purchase with two friends, saving ourselves $100 each. It was easier than I expected, thanks to the joys of broadcasting on Twitter and receiving money through Interac.

CONTENT

Mitch Joel: New media isn’t like old media. Why are we still using old-media paradigms of broadcasting? Reboot your marketing. Interesting stories/points: Burning the ships, SnapTell, more grandparents than high school students (comments point out logical flaws in the headline, though), 40% sleeping while watching TV, negative review converts more readily to a sale, semantics: negative review can be great, 20% completely new searches on Google every day, Journey and Arnel Pineda

Seth Godin: Be an artist instead of a cog. Solve interesting problems. Risk getting booed off the stage. Invent the next step. Work around your lizard brain. Characteristics of indispensable people: connected, creative, able to handle complexity, good at leading tribes, inspiring, have deep domain knowledge, passionate. Ship. Thrash at the beginning, not the end. People say: we need you to lead us. Work can be a platform to create art.

Sally Hogshead: Factors of fascination: Mystique, power, lust, prestige, alarm, vice, trust. People will spend a lot on things that are fascinating or things that help them become fascinating.

James Othmer: Not about campaigns, it’s about commitments. Persuasion – voice – engagement – immersion. Create a story that invites people in. Learn from movies and entertainment. Pay attention to continuity. Create a story that hangs together.

Max Lenderman: Be compelling, contextual, visceral. Story about skits in rural India, virtual ary, branded spaces, Camp Jeep, Flame (Whopper perfume), Kwik-E mart (7-11), Tide free laundry

Dan Heath: Change: Find the bright spots. Not recipe, but process. Skip true but useless knowledge. Focus on the signs of hope. What’s working right now and how can we do more of it? Direct the rider, motivate the elephant, shape the path. We change behavior by working with the elephant. See – feel – change. Find the feeling. Shape the path: Tweak the environment. Amsterdam urinal spillage story (fly). Most people try to change 5-7 times before they succeed. What makes you think you’ll get it on the first try?

PRESENTATION

Video can be a shortcut for sharing emotional stories.

Slick ad-like animations (soundtrack only, no voice) detract, though. The shift in attention is a jarring.

Some professional speakers read slides, apologize for themselves, turn their backs on the audience, have low-contrast slides, use ineffective fonts, use jargon, get lost without notes… Plenty of opportunities here.

Big difference between people who give lots of presentations (ex: Seth Godin, Dan Heath, Mitch Joel) and people who haven’t given as many.

Vivid language, metaphors, stories, funny pictures = awesome.

Key message and simple framework essential for helping people follow what you’re saying.

Good talks are focused on you, not the speaker.

Well-chosen transitions/animations make a presentation look extra-polished. (Dan Heath – good example.)

Meta

1600 people filled the auditorium. Lots of need for insight.

Choice of topics shows that audience is still mostly struggling with shift to digital.

Advantages of attending conference over reading business books: see what speakers focus on, watch videos illustrating stories, pick up presentation tips.

Got so tempted to dig into some presentations and experiment with their structures. May want to turn that into presentation coaching someday.

I liked Dan Heath’s content the most. I like Dan’s presentation style and Seth’s presentation style about evenly.

Next actions for me: Track down stories they shared; collect interesting stories, videos, and pictures; continue learning and sharing material.

ACM Hypertext conference in Toronto this June; paper deadline Feb 14

My research supervisor is chairing the ACM Hypertext conference that will be held in Toronto from June 13 to 16, 2010. The conference focuses on linking and interconnectivity, and will have sessions on Web 2.0, social computing, and the semantic web. Tracks:

  • Social computing
  • Adaptive hypermedia and applications
  • Hypertext in education and communications

The deadline for paper submissions is February 14.

ACM Hypertext2010

Thinking about conferences

I might feel anxious about starting a conversation with a stranger, but I love inspiring a room through public speaking. As a result, I’ve spoken at numerous conferences, and I’m often invited to speak at more.

Lately, I’ve been trying to figure out when and how to say no. I’ve been very good at saying yes in the past, and I’ve come across all sorts of great opportunities and met all sorts of great people that way. But presentations take time. I get three weeks of vacation each year. Visiting the Philippines or enjoying a staycation with W- and J- takes a two-week chunk. I sprinkle the days from the remaining week throughout my year to give myself short mental breaks or to take care of things I can’t easily reschedule. Conferences are great, but they take time too.

Planning a presentation is hard work. I almost always customize or re-create presentations extensively. I typically spend more than four hours preparing a presentation, much of it in the impossible-to-outsource task of organizing my thoughts and clarifying the key message. Some presentations take over my mind for a few days, using even my dream-time to sort out the content and the flow.

Then there’s the time it takes to actually give the presentation. There’s travel and the arrangements that need to be made. There’s delivering the presentation. If I want to make the most of a conference experience, I’d probably want to attend the other sessions and go to the evening events. Too many events close together, and the edges unravel. I misplace little things, I feel rushed, I stress out. I get myself through it with introvert breaks, but it’s still tough. And then there’s the time I need to catch up with work and life.

I’ve not been very good at saying no. The last time I tried to say no, I wasn’t very clear about it. I had offered to help find someone else—so I was still on the hook. That experience taught me a number of valuable lessons:

  • It’s easier to change a no to a yes than to change a yes into a no. Say no if there’s the least bit of doubt.
  • I can still create and deliver inspiring talk even if I’m annoyed with myself and the situation.
  • There are some opportunities that aren’t worth it for me to take.

The numbers are pretty crazy, too. Yes, I can speak to ninety, a hundred, two hundred people in a room—but I can share the same presentation online and reach more than 10,000 viewers. I want to reach much more people than those who pay the conference registration fee. With online presentations and blog posts, I can make things whenever I want to, without giving myself deadlines to worry about. My online work is a lot more searchable than most conferences’ archives. My estimated ROI is an order of magnitude larger, even discounting the value created in purely online presentations.

The key thing I like about conferences is the serendipity of learning from other people, of meeting interesting co-panelists and speakers and participants, of bumping into people over Twitter and in hallways. The Net is giving me more and more ways to do that on my own. It may be slower, but it still works.

So I’m beginning to understand why many speakers charge fees, and why authors have form letters that express their regrets. They’re making conscious decisions about how to spend their time and energy, and what to trade those for. I haven’t completely figured out how to handle speaking fees that with IBM. I love what I’m doing, so I’m not about to go off and become an independent speaker/consultant/writer/geek. (At least not yet!)

Some conferences I may still accept: the ones that are directly related to my work, perhaps, and from which I and my manager can see a clear benefit. Then they’re counted as work time, and there’s no confusion about whether something is IBM or not IBM. I’d be happy to let people explore other opportunities.

Over time, I may learn how to say no gracefully—and that will free me up to say yes to opportunities to deepen my understanding.