Four Tips for Attending Your First Professional Conference

I recently attended my first conference as a full-time developer. The conference was a great opportunity to grow my technical skills and hear what other people are doing in the industry. I also found that there was a fair bit of learning involved in navigating my first conference. Afterwards, I spent some time reflecting on the experience and what I can improve at my next conference. Here are my four takeaways from that experience.

1. Don’t Fall for Clickbait Titles

At the conference I attended, there were multiple presentations happening at the same time. When looking at the schedule, I found myself naturally drawn to the presentations with interesting titles and abstracts. Often, these abstracts didn’t give much information about the content of the presentation.

I ended up finding that these talks were significantly different than I expected. At my next conference, I plan to favor presentations with abstracts that are clear about the intended content of the talk.

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Switch Talks

The last time I was in lecture-style presentations, I was a college student. I went to a university where the average class size in my major was about 40 students, so it would have been strange to get up and leave during a lecture. I realized partway through the conference that this wasn’t the case for the presentations I was sitting through. One speaker made a point to say that people should feel comfortable leaving and going to a different talk if they weren’t finding the information presented useful.

I found this information to be really valuable, and I plan to keep it in mind at the next conference I attend. If I end up in a talk where I feel the content isn’t interesting or applicable, I’ll make an effort to relocate and find a talk that is a better fit. If I’m uncertain whether I’ll enjoy a talk, I’ll probably try to sit near the end of a row so I can leave with little disruption.

3. Connect with Coworkers

I went to this conference as part of the Atomic Accelerator program, so I attended with my peers in Cell Two, as well as the Grand Rapids office’s Accelerator Manager.

This group of five meets weekly for group discussion, so we know each other pretty well at this point. Still, the time spent together outside of work took us to the next level as a team. I believe that this time to increase our team cohesion was as valuable as the time spent at the conference growing our technical skills. In the future, I plan to go to conferences that at least a few of my colleagues will attend so I can continue building relationships with teammates outside of working hours.

4. Recharge

The final thing I learned is that it’s important to take time to recharge. By the end of the first day of presentations, we were all mentally exhausted. We headed back to the hotel before dinner and took some time to recharge: playing frisbee in the pool, reading a book, and hitting the hotel exercise room.

That time was really valuable for preparing myself to focus for the second day of presentations. For my next conference, I’ll be sure to pack a good book and workout clothes so that I have plenty of options for recharging.

I’ll be heading to my next conference later this year. What tips do you have? I’d love to hear how you get the most out of conferences.