I’ve gone to a lot of web events over the years. Every once in a while I’m asked questions about attending them, often from someone going to their first conference.

While I’m nowhere near the level of some grizzled globetrotting conference veterans I know, I have learned a few tricks. This post is a grab bag of thoughts about making sure you and the people around you get the most out of attending conferences.

Be present

Don’t spend the time and money to be in the room, yet spend your whole time writing work email or ducking out to talk on the phone. Switch work off and be present, or don’t waste the money – it’s not just the conference ticket, your time has value too.

If you absolutely have to check in with work in order to come at all, try to time box it – eg. keep it to the breaks, or choose which sessions to sacrifice.

Meet new people

You don’t need to ignore your workmates at a conference, but keep in mind you always have access to them. Hang out with new people too! Meet new people in the lunch line. Meet new people in the coffee queue. Meet new people at the after party.

Making these connections is the basis of Networking™... which is an overly-formal, overly-fussy business word for meeting people. There will be plenty of people you just chat to once (and that’s ok), but there’ll be others who become contacts, colleagues and friends.

Web Directions South 2010
Amongst my people! Fun fact: there's at least one person in this photo that I would later work with, but hadn't met yet.

Meeting speakers

Should you talk to speakers? Of course! They're people too ;) Most are happy to answer followup questions, or simply to hear that you got something out of their talk. Naturally you should be mindful that lots of people may want to speak to them, particularly right after their talk.

Be inclusive

Be open, be helpful, draw people into your conversations, invite them to whatever is happening. Do whatever you can to create a safe space for people to enjoy themselves.

This can be as simple as stepping back to make room for someone in a conversational circle; or a broadcast tweet telling people where you’ve gone for dinner/drinks and that all are welcome to join.

People don’t have to do whatever you suggest and you don’t have to go with them, but it’s good to give people options – particularly when you have local knowledge.

Look after yourself

During events, it’s very easy to get excited and overdo things… too much coffee, too many beers, not enough sleep. Remember the simple things like staying hydrated and eating properly. I know this advice is not exactly rock’n'roll but you will enjoy yourself more!


Conferences can be hyper-stimulating. Even the most extroverted person may need a quick break to process that 'brain full’ feeling, so they can properly enjoy the rest of the event. I have often skipped a session to get a moment of relative quiet, step outside, chat to a friend, or check out the sponsor booths without the crowds.

JJ spotted me and Steve chilling out during Google Developer Day.


  • Check the specifics of how you’re getting to the venue on the day, even if it’s in your home town. You don’t want to miss the opening keynote because you didn’t check transit times.
  • Look up the location before you book hotels. Check proximity to both the venue and places to eat.
  • Read the full schedule before you book flights – check for leading and trailing events that may be running alongside the main conference. You don’t want to find out about an awesome event the day you’re flying out.

Wifi and power

  • Assume there will be no wifi. If you must have a connection, bring your own solution.
  • Assume there will be no power points available. Charge everything to 100% and take a power bank for your phone.
  • If you do plug in somewhere, only take up one socket – remember you can plug in your laptop and charge your phone with USB.
  • Never unplug an unknown cord in the venue (I’ve seen people do this!).

Prepare devices

Make this a night-before ritual:

  • Charge all the devices you’re taking, clear your camera’s memory cards, etc.
  • Run backups and system updates – you don’t want your laptop doing a forced reboot during the opening keynote.
  • Turn off all forms of file sharing, including Dropbox. Conference wifi gets slammed enough as it is.

In your bag

  • Devices, chargers and power banks – this varies for everyone, but think minimum viable setup.
  • Pack a water bottle – it’s common for venues to ban open drinks in theatres but allow bottles.
  • I like to take a relatively low-sugar snack to avoid an afternoon sugar crash.
  • Take a light jacket even if it’s blazing hot outside – venue air conditioning can be absolutely freezing.
  • Check your bag isn’t stupidly heavy. Remove any items you only need for normal work days.

Web Directions South 2012
It was so cold in the old convention centre that Web Directions provided blankets!


That’s a whole post to itself, but a couple of things:

  • Check your clicker’s batteries
  • Make sure your presentation works without wifi
  • Back up your slides to USB as well as the cloud
  • Dry throat? Getting over a cold? Hayfever season? I’ve sometimes taken a KeepCup with honey and lemon slices. Fill with boiling water, let it steep and you have something much better than water to take on stage.

Choosing sessions

Single-track conferences are awesome for anyone who experiences FOMO; and they ensure everyone has a truly shared experience. But if the conference has multiple tracks you have some decisions to make.

  • Read the session descriptions ahead of time and have a rough plan.
  • Be willing to change that plan if you get a tip on a great talk; or simply change your mind.
  • There’s usually a session with two things you want to see scheduled at the same time. Flip a coin!
  • Sometimes there’s a session with nothing you want to see. This is a great chance for decompression or to take a chance on a topic you’d normally overlook.
  • Accept that sometimes you’ll miss some scorchingly awesome, world-changing session. Catch it on video later!

Note taking

There are many ways to enjoy a conference. Some people take notes, some sketchnote, some mind map, some take photos, some like to simply sit and let it all sink in. There’s no right or wrong.

It doesn’t matter which you choose, just be prepared. If you plan to write on paper, make sure you’ve got something to lean on. If you plan to use a laptop, know how to maximise battery life.

Above all else…

Know what works for you. Being prepared helps me relax and enjoy the event. You may prefer to rock up with nothing to carry. Do whatever makes you feel ready for the day.


Just enjoy it. This is an excessively-detailed post about a simple thing: you are going to a place full of like-minded people, to see people talk about the thing you love to do. In the breaks you can meet peers from all over the world; and afterwards there will be as much partying as you feel like.

Have fun!