12 ways how not to "do" a conference

Having just returned from DrupalCon Paris 2009 with mixed feelings as to how I forged my own experience there, I thought I'd put down some thoughts on conference attendance and participation — what (not) to do.

  1. Don't minimize the jet lag factor.

    I had an 8-hour shift in going to Paris, and my first day there after touching down around 7am was pretty much lost in the fog. The second day was really my first day, and that would have been better spent having to myself to just settle in, check out my hotel neighborhood, find decent food, orient myself as to where the conference venue was, etc. As it was, I had to run off to the conference for my first day of meetings and such. I should have arrived a day earlier.

  2. Don't stay at a hotel beyond walking distance of the venue, if possible.

    My hotel was about 2 miles from the conference venue, which turned out to be a manageable walking distance. I'm not sure I would want to have more than a 40 minute walk every day, so I peg the limit at 2 miles. But walking is great!! What did I gain from walking? I got to see and experience Paris during my "commute" to and from the conference. I had no tourism time, so this turned out to be a daily pleasure, even when it was raining. And on the 2 or 3 occasions where I needed to cab it for time, it was a short jaunt. (On the other hand, when I stayed in Barcelona, I was 40 minutes away by train, and that was a royal pain. It worked out because I had plenty of food and drink in my hotel area, and the conference was in a rather barrenly industrial part of town.)

  3. Don't upgrade critical laptop software the day before leaving.

    I upgraded to Snow Leopard the day before, and I thought I was all set. Testing revealed no apparent problems that were critical. However, once in Paris I discovered that the slideshow I created in Keynote for looping on the pingVision sponsor's monitor at the venue would not export properly to Quicktime. (See related post, linked below.) I spent an entire day struggling with this. A day lost. Big #fail on my part. Never again.

  4. Don't eat the hotel food.

    Look, do you eat at any hotel restaurants where you live? Enough said.

  5. Don't bring the 17" laptop, no matter how much you love it.

    My back is killing me from carrying not one full-sized MacBoo Pro, but two — one to play the looping slideshow. Today I'm practically paralyzed with back pain. Next time, it's a netbook (or the rumored Apple touchpad) or just a smartphone.

  6. Don't figure you'll be able to meet up with someone later.

    When you see someone you want to talk to, stop and talk. Right then. Don't wait. Of the half dozen or so people I ran into when I was intending to do something else and we promised to talk later, I talked with none of them later. The event may be a week long, but that is over quite suddenly. Talk to your friends, acquaintances, colleagues and other people you want to meet up with whenever you can. Be spontaneous!

  7. Don't blow off the parties, no matter how tired you are.

    Some of the best conversations I had last week were at the "brown bag" party that just kind of happened on the Left Bank. The restaurant designated for meeting was too expensive, but that didn't prevent a fun party in the plaza right there. You couldn't know that in advance, either. In the past, I've been one to choose rest or work over socializing in the evenings of conferences, but that's been my loss. I don't particularly like loud bars and despise crowded meet markets, but there's nothing like conversation over coffees or beers or wine or a fabulous meal!

  8. Don't forget about global data roaming.

    I bought a 50MB plan that more than covered my email and Twitter needs for the week on my iPhone. However, I noticed that when you sync your iPhone to iTunes, your global data gets turned on, even if you had it turned off. And if you had not planned ahead with a global data plan for the month, you could find yourself in for some surprising and onerous charges.

  9. Don't get too wrapped up in your own shit.

    I don't know about you, but there's always stuff going on that demands my attention. Scores of "real" emails every day. Text messages. Phone messages. Project management issues. I let myself spend too much office-style time on those things, which prevented me from seeing far too many sessions. This is the biggest #fail on my part. You're there at the conference to meet up with people, connect with friends, learn what they're up to and discover new things. Your own stuff will be there after the session. Go to the effing session already!

  10. Don't leave too early.

    Some may consider leaving early to be fashionable, like leaving a party. Some may consider leaving early to be expedient, figuring there's little of interest at the end of a conference. I left too early because I got my dates mixed up. I ended up missing the code sprint on the last day. If you've never been to a Drupal sprint, then you're missing out. At DrupalCon DC, it was my favorite day where I finally got to interact with others and even work on some templating code. Missing out on all that in Paris was a major bummer for me.

  11. Don't neglect learning which is your airline's terminal.

    United's website did not tell me which terminal their flights departed from. United's reminder emails did not tell me either. So when I got to Charles De Gaulle Airport, I did not know where to go. The taxi driver either did not know or took my ignorance as an opportunity to inconvenience another foreigner, and dropped me at Terminal 2. Apparently the managers of that airport did not feel that identifying airlines on their maps was necessary. That airport is pretty confusing when you don't know what you're looking for. A helpful person at an information counter explained to me that my taxi driver had dropped me at the opposite end of the airport from where I needed to be. 30 minutes later I finally got to the check-in counter. Next time, I will not be so complacent.

  12. Don't forget about the post-con blues.

    It happens to me every time. I get down after the event, after riding a week on all that energy and excitement. And when I get down, I run through my regrets -- the people I didn't meet, the dumb things I said, the food I shouldn't have eaten.... The blues are blue enough without all that extra baggage. Which is why I'm writing this blog post. I want to savor the joys, and not get distracted by regrets. Therefore: these notes, mostly to myself, for next time.

I'm glad I didn't manage to fail on all these counts this past week, but I really need to work on my conference attendance planning and not just my conference presentation planning. I will do better at DrupalCon San Francisco!

Do you have any other conference attendance suggestions?


Great post, Laura. I was guilty of about half of these, but still managed to have a great time!

Thanks! At least I got to see you, albeit during the Drupal Association meeting!

Agreed, generally, although I was often too tired to stick around after the end of the days - although with Tammy waiting for me at the apartment, I certainly had more of a reason to run off. :)

Hotel food is useful for breakfasty stuff in general, especially if it's included in your stay, but coming to Paris and eating at the hotel for other meals may be against the law. :)

Oh, and your registration is broken - I tried to register and it first didn't accept me signing up with openid, and then told me my 8 character password needed to be at least 6 characters long!

Apparently I had neglected to disable logintoboggan, which we all know conflicts with OpenID ... and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Sorry about that!

This is a great list. It's easy to forget that going to conference is a major shift in the schedule, especially with time zones involved! I particularly like tip #6 of your list.

Re: #2... We stayed at the venue. In hindsight, I would've preferred staying closer to the center. I did go out a lot at night and it would have been a lot easier to walk back to my accommodation (assuming accommodation was near the social scene) then. Public transportation stops around 2 AM and one night it took us over an hour to get a taxi. I will happily wake up earlier to travel to the venue.

Of the two extremes, skipping the parties and staying up too late, neither is ideal. Next time I am home by 2 AM, no matter how much fun it is!

I have another tip (not sure if this is specific to France or all of Europe): if you book a taxi, be on time. Several times we paid double what we should have because their rates for waiting is huge!


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