Jolie O’Dell’s anti-South by Southwest “afterthought” got me thinking about social media/tech conferences and how quickly they can get stale. [UPDATE: I don’t know if this is at all related, but shortly after that post, Jolie announced she was leaving ReadWriteWeb, the blog she covered SXSW for.]
I started going to social media/tech conferences about a year-and-a-half ago and I’ve kept up a pretty steady pace ever since. I’d say I hit about one a month on average. Conferences can be great: It’s nice every now and then to get together with a bunch of people you know through Twitter or Facebook and trade ideas. Sometimes it’s just nice to shake someone’s hand and put a living, breathing personality to the avatar.
But there are a couple big pitfalls I see with conferences and sooner or later, you’ll probably fall into one of them:
- You can’t really distinguish between one conference and the next (same people, same information);
- You start to wonder what you really did besides shake a few hands and cash in your drink tickets at the after party.
Not to knock hanging out with your friends and throwing back a couple drinks or anything, but some of these conferences are pretty expensive and, well, you can hang out with your friends and drink for free (more or less). So if you get in a mode where you feel like the conferences you attend are getting stale, here are a few things I’d suggest thinking about:
- Why are you there? You get out of these things what you put into them, so if your only reason for being at a conference is that “it sounded cool”…that might be your problem. Seth Simonds summed this up well in a post the other day about how to prep for (and succeed at) a networking-type event.
- Who are you there with? You probably don’t have a whole lot of control over the presenters at a given conference, so if they’re the same people all the time, that’s kind of unavoidable. But if you’re rolling with the same crew to every conference, is it really that surprising that you always end up talking to the same people? I know it’s weird to separate from your group and engage strangers, but if that’s what the job requires, that’s it (Chris Brogan has some advice on how to overcome this).
- What are you coming away with? If all you leave with is an “Oh, that was fun,” you obviously didn’t get a ton of value out of your visit. You’re not going to get a business card and a promise of future correspondence out of everyone you meet, but go back to Seth’s advice: Nail down a handful of things you want to accomplish so you can say, if nothing else, that you got those things done that you wanted to.