What Conferences and Events Mean to Me

Inspired by Laura Kalbag’s post explaining why she goes to conferences, what she gets out of them, and how best to share what she’s learnt, and Andy Clarke’s New Adventures And Me postI feel not only inspired, but compelled to share my thoughts.

So here goes.

Knowledge

I do try and follow the main conferences via the relevant hashtag on Twitter, (and then read and bookmark Lukew’s notes if it’s an American conference!), read review blog posts, or look at the slides a couple of days later if they’re made available. I find this to be an extremely valuable and quick way to get the main points of the talk, and see what the general consensus of opinion of the conference is too. If the presentation is made available to watch online at a later date, I’ll try and do that.

Inspiration

Following the conference hashtag gives me a sense of being there. I love the excitement and tweets that come from those that are seeing things like Responsive Web Design for the first time, are blown away by somebody talking about content, or seeing mobile usage stats from the real world. Some of this is not new to me, but a lot of it is.

As methodologies improve, and techniques become more efficient, or more appropriate for “client work”, conferences are a fantastic way to keep up to date with how the “best in the industry” solve problems, and what they’ve learnt along the way. What other industries would be so keen to show “rivals” and “competitors” how else they could solve problems, or how to create industry best practice?

Perhaps as an attendee or speaker you miss out on some of the tweets that I see. Or maybe you read them afterwards to see if others had the same good experience as you did, and enjoy them as much as I do.

Social

Reading about the social aspects often feels a bit “you had to be there” for me. I personally don’t need to see pictures of the cakes or the goody bags, or read about somebody looking worse for wear after the after-show party. But I can appreciate that some people enjoy that side of things.

I love reading a blog post, or seeing a tweet about somebody’s reaction to having unexpectedly met their web hero such as whilst in the queue for the toilet, or whilst getting a drink. Also, a meeting of like minds at the after party will often throw up some fantastic new web ideas or friendships that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

Location

I live in the north west of England, which is not really the place to be for a web person who wants to be in the middle of the action. Seemingly Brighton is the place to be at the moment, and the number of web people there, the events they put on and attend, and the whole attitude of Brighton makes me really envious. I know that there are other events on in other cities, all over the country, but those who live in or near Brighton seem to always be going to a conference either at home or abroad! This might be solely to the people I follow on Twitter, and so could be a skewed representation.

Expense / Resources

For me, being able to afford to go to a conference is unlikely. Whilst I appreciate that they pretty much all offer exceptional value, and presentations from some of the best people in the industry, having a young family means that there is unfortunately always something more pressing to spend that sort of money on.

I’d love to be able to spend a few hundred pounds several times a year to see some of my favourite web people speak, or to experience An Event Apart or New Adventures but I realistically can’t justify it or afford it.

Technology, and social media is vital for me in this respect. Twitter, blog posts and write ups mean that I can “attend” any conference, anywhere in the world, without leaving my desk. In the same way that listening to the match on the radio isn’t the same as actually being there, it’s the same game, with the same result.

Format

For me, sometimes instant live tweets are good, whilst other times, a short write up, or a list of bullet points is most useful. My job means I don’t get to implement the actual technical aspects of much of what I gain from conferences, but need to be aware of the latest developments, and the “right way” to do things. With favourited tweets, and bullet points or blog posts, I’ve not only got the theory, but the resources and research to back it up too.

In this day and age it doesn’t matter whether you’re a good or trained writer, or just somebody there, your reporting is just as valid. Perhaps it’s even more valid when you can put something you’ve just seen or heard into the context of your own client work or a particular project. It’s amazing to read a tweet talking about this “latest technique” can be used to solve “this problem”, and seeing everybody having a “lightbulb” moment.

Conclusion

Writing this, has shown that I consume without giving back and take a lot for granted, and I think that calls for a blog post of its own ….

This is why it’s so kind of Laura, and all the people like her who take the time to share what they’ve seen and learnt with anyone who’s interested. In fact, I think I “discovered” Laura after a conference, and possibly due to her sharing her notes online via Twitter!

I think sharing your opinions, knowledge and experience gained from attending conferences and events is something that people like me value highly, and it is often “expected” but rarely credited. I know I’m guilty of reading a write up, and taking the points away from it, without thanking the person who wrote it.

Not only are presenters arguably sharing their hard work and company or personal “trade secrets” with attendees, these attendees are then free to share what they’ve learnt with people who didn’t even pay to attend the event. This is commercial suicide in pretty much every other industry, but is the norm in our industry. How good is that?

Laura, and all the others, thank you once again for sharing your experiences with us all.
TL; DR?

I don’t attend conferences but would if I could

  • I get a lot from conferences following the hashtag and reading blog posts.
  • I don’t thank people enough for their hard work!

What are your thoughts on this sort of thing?

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