I know I have been harping a lot on conferences of late, but you know, ’tis the season!
Because I had been in the process of moving to a new job, I just caught up with my blog feed this weekend and read Barry Hessenius’ piece on effectively exploiting the conference experience for people at different stages in their careers. Which he wrote a few weeks before my first post on the topic, proving once again that he is at the forefront of arts management theory.
Don’t misread my previous posts about how to improve the conference attendance experience as disgruntled criticisms of any conferences I have attended or contributed to. I was approaching the topic in the same spirit as I approach arts attendance experiences: questioning what it is that conferences, like the arts orgs they serve, need to do in order to provide participants with a valuable experience.
Hessenius’ post is especially useful for first time attendees because their conference experience is going to be all about networking. He identifies common features of arts conferences and provides advice about how to exploit these dynamics to best effect.
For example, regarding the plenary luncheons:
I never sit at just any table, nor am I the first one to seat myself. I wait until the tables begin to fill, quickly identify a table occupied by people I might want to talk to and those I might want to get to know. Even if your seat mates are serendipitously determined, that’s ok, because often times you end up meeting someone who will make an excellent contact. Note too that keynote speakers are often inspiring and motivating, but few keynotes will offer you much practical advice that you can use, and thus the before, and during conversations with those at your table may be more valuable to you in the long run.
The one bit of advice I felt was valuable for people of any level of conference attendance experience was in regard to preparation:
One final piece of advice: there is a lot of talking that goes on at conferences. Learn to listen and listen well. And please, if there are recommended reading materials and / or research available before the conference for a session you might want to attend, don’t put that off until you are on the plane. Do your homework, if there is any, beforehand. If you give yourself more time to think about the subject, you’ll get more out of the presentation, and you’ll be able to formulate good questions to raise. Relax on the plane.
If there is one phrase I have heard at conferences over the last decade or so it is along those lines. People say they meant to review a text in advance or they downloaded the book planning to read it on the plane or listen to the audio content as they drove but didn’t get to it.
I understand that. For a whole lot of people attending a conference means cramming all the work you aren’t going to be around to do into the last few days before the conference. There is even less time than usual available to preview conference content.
But as Hessenius implies, you are carving out time to attend a conference to help yourself be better at your job. If you only have a precious few days in which to do that, it is worthwhile to prepare the soil in which this valuable content can thrive and grow.