Discuss this on Hacker News here.
I’ll admit it, I am a conference junkie. Traveling is my thing, and meeting new inspiring people who are on the same journey I am on helps to keep me in good spirits. It took me a while to get the stamina to truly enjoy networking, but it is a skill I have developed over time. Here are some tips that may help you.
HOW TO GET INTO EVENTS
So you want to get into that big conference, eh? Over the past few years, I have discovered a few ways that you can get in for free.
Stay Up To Date - Keep up to date on the events in your field. Subscribing to the Startup Digest (a weekly email list of the top events, curated by locals) in various cities is a solid path to finding good local events. Lanyrd.com is by far the best for conferences, as it lists upcoming conferences with the speakers who will be there. Search through for events in your area, or for events featuring people you are interested in meeting or following. Plancast.com is another good resource which lists the events your friends may be attending in the future. Following the influential people you want to meet is another way to find out.
Be Useful - Find ways to help the event organizer in exchange for free tickets. Many of the organizers are scrappy entrepreneurs themselves and will work something out with you if you are equally scrappy in helping them. You could photograph the event, volunteer for some behind-the-scenes work, or help with any of the organizers other concerns. Meeting other volunteers has been the most rewarding part of participating in conferences for me, so I would suggest doing that if you can.
Find Discounts - For most bigger events there are discounts that are used to entice people in specific communities. Dig around and you might be able to find these
Attend As Press - This is not easy to get. There are press passes for many events as well, as long as you can provide proof that you are a part of a reputable media outlet. It may be worth it to participate in content creation for a press outlet, as most web companies today have some sort of content marketing strategy anyway. Consider it practice.
HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF THE EVENTS
As great as conferences can be, you are sacrificing work time in order to attend. Here are some tips to get the most out of the event before you go and while you are there.
Research Speakers- Find out who is speaking and contact them before the event if possible. Set up times to meet up for an interview or a quick 5-10 minute chat during breaks.
Sit In The Right Place - Depending on your goals you may want to sit in strategic areas. One may be next to the mic so you can jump up and ask questions. Another may be next to the stage so you can catch a speaker when they are coming off stage. You could also sit next to the press if there are media outlets that you want to connect to.
Ask Questions - After TechCrunch Disrupt, I was know as that guy who asked Dennis Crowley and Fred Wilson questions after their panels. This is not only helpful in getting great advice from great investors and entrepreneurs, but it is also a chance to let people know exactly who you are and what you are interested in. People interested in the music industry have contacted me after hearing my specific questions about the industry, so this is a trick to getting some inbound requests, instead of searching through the sea of people to find those who are most impactful to your goals. It is your change to ask a compelling question that might help you stand out from the crowd.
HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF EACH CONVERSATION
Give - The problem most people have in their conversations is that they don’t listen nearly enough. Waiting for your chance to talk is not equivalent to engaging in conversation. Listen and ask questions that can help probe into their struggles, and give some feedback.
Wear Something Interesting - I try to wear my Songsicle shirt as often as possible, but anything that grabs attention can help give others an icebreaker to start a conversation. People tend to have trouble recognizing me in person unless I am wearing a fedora like in my twitter profile. At MicroConf I was the exploding hot sauce guy. In fact, peacocking works well for all areas of life :-)
Use Tools - There are many tools out now like Hashable, Sonar, and Sumazi that help you connect with people at these events. Use Hashable to immediately follow up with someone as soon as you meet them. Sonar and Sumazi will help you find people to connect with before and during an event. Twitter is still huge for me in continuing with some light conversations with people after meeting up with them. Monitor the hashtags for the event and converse with those who you may not even have met at the event.
HOW TO FIND A PLACE TO STAY
Gtrot.com is another site that lets you find friends to stay with and travelers to connect with.
HIRE SOMEONE TO DO IT FOR YOU
Maybe all of this stuff is too much for you. You may have a different personality type than the person that might implement these tricks. Or you are too busy dealing with the details of running a company to worry about traveling and spreading your message and product worldwide. In this case, if you want to focus on doing what you are good at and let others handle the networking and evangelizing, hire someone to do it for you. They can do the work to get key influencers using your product. You can sign up for early access to some of these evangelists at OnDemandEvangelist.com
What are your conference tricks?