Every time I go to a conference, I have a hard time to split between the tracks I want to follow and meeting people. When the conference is only 1 day long and those people also have to split their time between tracks and networking. Since they (probably) don’t want to see you only, it easily becomes a nightmare.
Over the years, I’ve set up conference routine to balance between the event itself and the networking part.
For 1 day only events
When the event is only 1 day long, I contact the people I want to meet beforehand. If we don’t know each other already, I send them a short, straight to the point introduction email. Their time is as precious as mine and they often have lots of sollicitations, so let’s get short!
There are 3 moments during the day where I can meet people with enough time to discuss
The 2 first ones are breakfast and lunch time. The usual 10 minutes conference break is too short, and the beer event is too random. People who come from another city (or another country) often leave straight after the latest talk. From my experience, breakfast is awesome for serendipity: you can meet freshly arrived strangers and start connecting around a cup of tea. Lunch time is better to catch up people you already know or have an appointment with.
The third one is allowing myself to skip one of the conference track and free 20 40 minutes accordingly. There’s always a speaker I’m less interested in either because of the topic of his conference, or because I know he’s mainstream enough so I’ll get everything on Twitter. I tend to notice people are more eager to follow the conference during the morning when they bran is still fresh. They skip talks easier and are more keen to discuss during the afternoon so that’s when I try to meet them.
At multiple days events
Things get different when I attend multiple days event. These are very tiring and require good time management if you want to be on top until the end.
At single day events, I select the talk I’m allowing myself to skip. For multiple days events, I do exactly the opposite. I pick up the talks I really want to attend not only for the content or the speaker, but also for the questions I’ll be allowed to ask. Asking questions to a speaker – and finishing the conversation off – is something you can’t do watching a replay on Youtube.
Before the event, I contact people I want to meet there. Once again, email must be short and straight to the point. I won’t contact someone notoriously busy « for a coffee » unless I actually know that person. I propose 2-3 slots for the meeting and give an approximate time, like « 20 minutes ».
Once defined the business appointments, 2-3 days avents are a great place to catch up with friends and meet random strangers. Once again, breakfast time is the perfect time to do it. When the conference starts, you can either keep talking and skip the first talks, or pretext you want to attend the opening session to get rid of someone.
During long events I also allocate time to get some rest. Conference venues are usually noisy, your brain process a constant stream of information and the last day is usually hard to survive to. I try to find a silent place 30 minutes during the first afternoon, day 1, and 20 minutes in the morning and afternoon day 2 and 3. I usually have a walk outside so I can have a real break.
Checking my last long conferences, I’ve done a 40% networking, 50% talks and 10% rest. The networking part is important because I’m usually there as an invited blogger, and I dedicate some time to meet people who can bring me materials for my articles, like startup owners or speakers.