How to get the most out of conferences

Problem: Conferences are often a waste of time and you do not want to be the dude that only asks questions to ask questions. A big problem here is the misconception that conferences are to bring people together and make them network, but this is not true.

The purpose of conferences is knowledge transfer and solving problems, not networking. People are already networked. If the only reason for you to attend a conference is getting networked, you are wasting time and precious resources.

General tips:

  1. Just learn and take notes. If you can take something away from the conference you are winning.
  2. Ask questions if you want to know something, especially if it could solve a problem for you.
  3. If you can solve a problem try to be helpful and get in touch.
  4. It is okay to skip talks if you are not the chair.
  5. It's not about networking. Visibility is useless without carrying value with it.
  6. Get good meta skills: Good food, sleep and some exercise are important. Keep protein intake high. Try to be well rested. Do not try to be productive that week and stress out because of that. Conferences are not about getting things done, but setting you up for that.

Do not be afraid to just sit there and learn and listen. It can take years before you can add value to your field.

Conferences are always very expensive, especially the hidden costs like bad sleep, bad exercise, bad foods and the general stress of traveling and the opportunity cost of getting things done. Also you have to plant a lot of trees to set off the CO2 emissions of one flight to some conference and there is pretty much no other single action you can do with comparable environmental impact. Such horrendous cost should be justified. So this gives rise to the probably most important tip:

  1. Do not go to any conference just for the sake of going to conferences.

Not all conferences are created equal and most of them are just not very good. It is just as with books, most of them are a total waste of time, but the gems will carry you forward for a long time.

So pick your conferences wiseley and ruthlessly cut out bad ones.