Fall conference season is here! On Monday, I head to Las Vegas for IT/Dev Connections, where I’m presenting two sessions. At the end of October, I’ll be heading to Seattle, WA for PASS Summit, where I get to present a session. After that, I’ll be on the Microsoft campus for MVP Summit. There are lots of other conferences, large and small, as well – AWS re:Invent, DEVintersection, Milwaukee Code Camp. Conference season is exciting and stressful. There’s so much to look forward to – but how do you know you’re going to get the most out of the conference?

It’s Your Conference

As you start thinking about attending your next conference, keep in mind that it is your experience. Here’s are some tips to make the most of it.

Think about – and write down – what your main goal is. Do you have a specific problem with a server or query that you need to solve? Do you want to learn more about HA/DR, or BIML? Are you going to take in as many sessions about the next version of SQL Server as you can? Are you going for the networking, because you’re the only person in your company who knows about SQL Server and you want people to bounce ideas off of? Once you define what you’re looking for, it’s easier to plan to meet that goal every day.

If you are going for sessions, look at the schedule early. Pick a couple sessions in each time slot – sometimes one will be full, or it’s on the other side of the convention center and you don’t have time to get all the way over there. But don’t feel that you have to attend a session in every single time slot. The learning is valuable, but many conferences (especially larger ones) record the sessions. Buy the recordings, and spend time in hallway. You can re-watch a session. You can’t walk down the hallway six weeks later and bump into someone who may answer your question, or change your career. Plan to spend time in the exhibitor hall, too, talking to sponsors. Their products are going to help you.

When it comes to evenings, don’t go out to dinner alone and head back to your hotel room every evening. If the conference has an evening dinner or reception planned, attend and do more networking! If not, why not make plans with the person you met in the hallway, or the people you at lunch with, to reconnect over dinner? (Yes, I know it’s easy for me to say this because I’m the Queen Extrovert of All the Extroverts, and I’ve heard that introverts need to get away from people to recharge. But again, the networking is invaluable.)

Packing Tips

Here are three items I won’t attend a conference without.

1. Business cards. I hand them out liberally. Even more so, I ask people for theirs. And, as soon as they hand them to me, I whip out a pen and write down what we talked about. This has led to great connections over the years.

2. A refillable water bottle. Conferences are exhausting. Conference centers are dry and uncomfortable. Stay hydrated, stay healthy. If you don’t like drinking from water fountains because of the taste, buy Brita water bottles – they pack well and work great.

3. Workout gear. Yes, bring workout clothes and shoes and whatever else you need. If you’re a walker or runner, it’s a great chance to explore a new city – ask the hotel you’re at for safe routes. If you’re a cyclist, find a local spin studio. If you’re a yogi, find a local yoga studio. If you lift heavy things, find a local gym or Crossfit box. Again, conferences can be exhausting and make you sick, but exercise will energize you and keep you healthy.

Say Hello

If you’ll be at IT/Dev Connections or PASS Summit, say hello! I look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones!