After a little math, I realized I’ve spent over 2 months of the last year and a half in hotels for conferences. I’ve been to Las Vegas, Austin, San Francisco, Vancouver B.C. and many more cities to cover tech and social media conferences. Most of these have been 2-3 day trips, with the exception of SXSW in 2011, which was a *12* day adventure.
All of these conferences had an extremely full agenda. Early to rise for registration, a full day of sessions (sometimes with dual tracks), happy hours, parties, then rinse and repeat.
The problem with conferences is the conference itself – and most people don’t even realize it. I was lucky (or unfortunate?) enough to learn the lesson from day 1 at my very first conference – CES in 2011 – that you won’t get the most value during conferences in a session. It’s what happens in the hallways, on the exhibit floor, during happy hours and over dinner with colleagues from across the country that matter the most.
At SXSW, I ran into people like Felicia Day, Guy Kawasaki, Tim Ferris, Macklemore and so on and so on while hanging out in the hall or between happy hours. At the last conference I attended as press – GROW in Vancouver, B.C. – I ended up skipping out on all the sessions and snagged some amazing interviews out in the hall, such as one with the founder of the popular dating site, Plentyoffish. (That said, apparently I also missed the chance to judge a “startup smackdown” contest because I was MIA….oh well.)
If you’re attending a conference, take a look at who is not in the sessions and consider the opportunity to network with those hanging out in the lounges nearby. At a recent conference in Seattle, I chose to watch an afternoon of sessions from a room set up for those who needed to work and make a little noise – as a result, I ended up snagging a gig to partner with an SEO firm to help with content production. And all the while, I didn’t miss a beat of the conference.
You can always grab the decks from presentations online and catch up on tweets with a quick search on Twitter. But you can’t catch up on missed opportunities to network and meet those who are with you at a conference – which can often prove to be more valuable than watching a particular session live and/or in person.