Christina is a photojournalist for Revolutionary Media.
Conversations are more valuable than sessions The big revelation is that the most interesting moments will likely not be in the sessions themselves. This is a surprise, since the marketing for events focuses on the sessions and the speakers.
Sessions can be wonderful, but at best they are one-directional experiences where you are a recipient more than a participant. You can often watch videos of talks or view the slides when you return home.
If the conference is well designed, there should be many opportunities to meet people, through small group sessions or social activities. To make it fly logistically experts are usually asked to give presentations to hundreds of people at the same time and the way they teach is limited because of that format.
Often anyone can submit a presentation, a panel session idea, or a workshop proposal. Some events have lightening talkswhere anyone can talk for 5 minutes. The reason contributing matters is it makes you an insider: Even if your submission is rejected you still get rewards: These are often the most enlightening sessions, as they are smaller, more interactive and can go much deeper than a lecture can assuming the workshop is designed well.
Some events have signup sheets for reserved spaces where anyone can lead a conversation, and anyone can sit in.
Often these are disapointing, as a good conversation requires someone to lead it well. See my advice on running unconference sessions for how to facilitate informal groups.
The majority of sessions at most events involve one person on stage lecturing a large audience. This can be a good way to learn if the topic is right and the speaker is good, but good speakers are rare. By taking good and simple notesyou become a more active listener: A panel session has 4 or 5 invited speakers sharing a time slot together.
In better panel sessions, there is a diversity of points of view, and everyone is comfortable sharing them. But too often, panels are terrible. The panelists shy away from the intended topic, or avoid disagreeing with their co-panelists. For these and other reasons, panels are a wild card, and often result in forgettable experiences.
Some conferences have poster areas, where professionals or students put together summaries of their work. At more academic conferences, there are paper sessions, where the authors of selected paper submissions get a chance to talk for 15 minutes about their paper.
First, the papers are available online. Second, these folks were accepted on their ability to write a good paper, not on their ability to engage or communicate through a presentation.
Circle those sessions and if two or more occur at the same time, flag the one you want to go to first. Then during the event, you already have an outline for what to prioritize. Simply go to the next session in that time slot that interested you.
Repeat the same thought process.
The result is that you maximize your time spent in sessions you will actually enjoy, and minimize your time spent bored, hoping things will get better.
If you run out of interesting sessions to go to, head for the trade show or main hallway.
An easy way to meet people is to simply chat with the folks in the booths or others who seem bored by whatever sessions are currently happening. Often, by the night of the event many people have already formed cliques.
The helpful reminder is that everyone is at the event to learn and most are there to talk to interesting people. An easy way to start a conversation with anyone at the event are questions like:This updated volume offers vital help to college students who are applying to medical school and are required to write a medical school admissions essay.
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