3 Ways to Have a Really Bad Time at a Conference


Greetings from fabulous Las Vegas!

This week, I’m attending (and speaking at!) the annual Skillsoft user conference, Perspectives 2014. My session was Tuesday afternoon during one of the pre-conference workshops – technically, the conference begins Wednesday morning. Needless to say, I lucked out on the timing of my session…it’s all done early, so now I can truly enjoy the rest of the conference and not have to worry about my session, read and re-read my notes or be anxious.

There are hundreds of learning professionals at this conference; I’m sure most people have their own approach to how they tackle an event. Some people are natural-born networkers and mingle their way through a conference, scooping up business cards like a 90s kid collected Pokemon cards. Others are more content to stick to the periphery of an event, preferring to have fewer, deep conversations throughout the event.

Regardless of whether you are a social butterfly or a quiet observer, there are ways to make the most of a conference…and there are ways to completely waste your time. Here are 3 ways to have a really bad time at your next conference or event:

1. You don’t learn peoples’ stories, or share your own.

One of the best parts of a conference is the sheer mass of like-minded people in one place. Use this opportunity to learn about other attendees. You needn’t be an outgoing person or even skilled at networking to show genuine interest. At a breakout session or during a communal meal, take time to introduce yourself to the person seated next to you. Ask his/her name…where they are from…how they are using the product (if it’s a company-sponsored conference), etc. You might just walk away with some great ideas that you could implement in your own program!

2. You skip out to check in on your work.

Set clear expectations before you leave the office. Let your team know that you will be attending the event, and you will be unavailable. Use tools like your out-of-office reply to be clear with people who send you emails while you’re out. At the very least, set aside a couple of blocks of time throughout the event to be available for phone calls or to respond to email. It will free your mind to tune into the event.

I know, you can’t always completely shut off your work. Or home. Or kids. Or whatever responsibilities that are on your proverbial plate. But if you made an effort to attend the conference, make sure you prioritize being engaged while you are there.

3. You don’t participate.

Whether “participate” to you means simply showing up, or tweeting to the event’s hashtag (I’ll be tweeting at #perspectives14 this week!) or making connections with other attendees, you will only get as much out of an event as you put into it. If you skip the sessions to sleep in or go shopping or play golf, then your takeaways from the event will obviously be less meaningful than if you are tuned in throughout. Whatever “participate” means to you, then do it.


If you have a conference or two on your calendar this year, use it as an opportunity to learn more about your industry, and to truly connect with others. You’ll walk away with an appreciation of others’ stories, and possibly some valuable ideas that might work in your own program!

Your turn: What have been the best conference events you’ve attended? How do you make the most of a conference? How do you make connections with others during a large event? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


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5 thoughts on “3 Ways to Have a Really Bad Time at a Conference

  1. Shannon Tipton says:

    Michelle – you hit the nail on the head with item #2. I always shake my head at the amount of people doing work in the middle of the conference floor. So many great and informative sessions happening around them and they can’t see past the glow of the latest spreadsheet sent from the office.

    True work emergencies aside, I have the naive hope these people are working on their blogs about how great the conference is and sharing new information. (Rose-colored glasses). To me, if you are working then items #1 and #3 are inevitable. You aren’t going to be able to share (that email keeps pinging) and you won’t be able to participate because you didn’t hold firm to your “out of office” (you did set one up didn’t you?). Just send the conference provider your money and stay at the office.

    • Michelle says:

      Hey Shannon! I know…I saw so many people with their heads buried in their laptops/phones at the conference I attended this week…it’s such a shame that they were missing out on so much terrific content.

      You’d better believe I set my out-of-office reply! We don’t have a huge conference budget at the day job, so whenever I’m able to attend one, I try to fully immerse myself. ;)

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