Amybeth Hale – Research Goddess

What Kind of Conference Attendee Are You?
March 31, 2008, 5:51 pm
Filed under: Education, Thoughts

I’m attending the ICWSM conference in Seattle this week!

There are a million conferences going on all over the place right now. While there are lots that we all want to attend, we’ve got to pick and choose based on budget (ours or our employer’s), amount of travel required, time off from work, etc. When we attend these conferences, the idea is to learn new things, right?  

I find there are 3 main types of conference attendees. Let me outline them for you here: 

1.         The guy who is there to learn:
This is the individual who arrives with a notepad and pen (or a laptop to take notes) and hangs on every word the speaker says. He sits near the front of the room to get a better view of the presenter and to ask questions during the Q&A.He’s the guy who:

  • Introduces himself to the speakers (and everyone else there, for that matter)
  • Is excited about being at the conference
  • It’s possible he paid his own way to the conference
  • Has a pre-written list of questions to ask the speakers
  • Tries to get one-on-one time with the speakers and/or the well-known attendees who are experts in their field
  • Has an overall good attitude

2.         The gal who knows it all:
Somehow or another, we occasionally end up beside that person who sits in the back of the room with her arms folded and a smirk on her face who grumbles, “I already know all this stuff; this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Typically, she’s the one who:

  • Casually strolls in 15 minutes late to the sessions
  • Leaves early to start happy hour before the speakers are done talking
  • Has something critical to say about every presenter
  • Knows more about the subject matter than the person presenting (or so she thinks)
  • Has an overall bad attitude

3.         Then there’s all of us in the middle J We’re kind of excited to be there, we take a few notes here and there, and we might introduce ourselves to a speaker or two, but we’ll tend to circle only with the other attendees that we know and don’t meet many new people there. 

May I offer up a couple of tips for getting the most out of your time at a conference?

  • You’re there for a reason J Either you paid your way (in which case you should be the most interested person there) or your employer sent you. Make the most of your time and try to learn something new.
  • Find the person who is obviously interested in learning, introduce yourself, and take note of the people he or she is meeting.
  • Make some preparations before you attend: ping your network and see if there are any folks going that you have connections with but haven’t met. Set up 5 minutes during a coffee break or something to connect and introduce yourself.
  • Try to sit near the front of the room.
  • Read the speaker’s bio and/or synopsis on their presentation, and write some questions down beforehand to ask (keep in mind they may get answered during the presentation too!)
  • Be respectful of the presenters and show up on time. If you were the one presenting, you’d probably find it distracting to have someone walk in after you’d already started; chances are they probably do too!
  • Avoid the know-it-all like the plague J This person will drain you mentally and make the conference a drag for you. And beware: this person might be a co-worker of yours! Best way to avoid is to not sit in the back of the room J
  • Understand that the person who is presenting was asked to do so for a reason. No matter how much you think you know, there is always something you can take from their presentation. Thinking that you can’t possibly learn anything new is arrogant and a sure sign that you do indeed have lots to learn J

A few years ago I attended a regional MRI conference, and there was a man there who was giving a presentation on recruiting best practices. I don’t remember verbatim what he said, but I remember him specifically addressing those people sitting in the audience who were saying “I already know all this” and he said, “For those of you sitting out there saying you already know all this stuff, just think about this: if you already knew what it took to make $500,000, you’d be making $500,000, and you would be up here presenting. So try to get something new out of this.”

So what kind of conference attendee are you?


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I’m in the mushy middle. But I have to add a possible fourth, having spoken at some of these.

The Autopilot Attendee: They know they need to be there. So they register and show up. And they sit there like a deer in the headlights. Their best bet is to emulate the guy who’s there to learn. But they are either overwhelmed or seemingly want to take a pill that allows them to instantly get it.

A conference is not that pill, you still have to work.

Comment by Kevin Dugan


I am at the ERE conference right now and this REALLY resonates with me. I have seen/been all three of these in the past day.

I religiously read your posts each day. Thank you for a great blog!

Comment by Amy Albright

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