Conferences are a fun place, great to learn new topics and to meet new people. Yet, for me they also take up a lot of energy and sometimes they can be a bit overwhelming.
I have come up with some guidelines on how to survive a conference and like to share these with you. So without further due;
Fly in early enough
I usually make it a habit to fly to the conference one day before it starts. If the conference takes place in another time zone, I try to fly in early in the morning. The benefit of doing so, is that I get acclimated to the place, may be able to do some sightseeing, get a work out in, eat a nice dinner and get at least eight hours of sleep. Remember, you are going to listen to many different people for at least two days. You want to be in a great mental state.
Get a good night rest
As mentioned above, a conference is a great chance to learn new topics and meet new people. If you want to learn, you will also pay a lot of attention. You can only do that if you are in a great state of mind. Your state of mind depends on how well you are rested. Many studies show that sleep deprivation can lead to long term issues. Funny enough, I have never believed those studies myself. But for a couple of years now, I’m trying to get enough sleep and had to realize that it is important. How many hours you need depends on you. Important is that you get enough sleep so you are sharp and ready to learn.
Work out or take time for yourself
I’m just going to say it, but sitting in a room with hundreds of people is just draining. Listening to many speakers (and pardon, but some speakers are just not so engaging) can be an exhausting experience. Moreover, sitting for a long time is bad for your energy. So, how do you recharge your battery? Right, by working out or by taking a break and going outside for a walk. Try it for yourself. At the next conference go take a walk around the venue for 10 – 15 minutes. You will see that you come back to the conference with renewed energy.
As a habit, I have started to take a quick walk after lunch and try to work out every evening. This keeps me going through every conference, no matter how long.
Water is important. Your body needs water. Every cell of your body needs water to work. Of course, you don’t lose as much water at a conference as you would by doing exercise. Though, the air conditioning and talking to other might dry you out. Having a bottle of water or a handy travel mug, keeps you from becoming dehydrated. I have made it a habit to drink at least 1-2 liters of water each day.
Eat healthy food
Food is something I have become frustrated with at conferences. Reason is that most conferences have no love for food. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you are most of the time out of luck and have to make due with a salad or less. This is unacceptable and needs to change. Additionally, serving tons of coffee and cookies, doesn’t make up for a lousy lunch. (Props go out to O’Reilly Oscon for having a lunch offering for vegetarians, vegans and people who have a gluten allergy).
That said, you need to eat healthy food and stay away from food with too much sugar. Also, try to stay away from Coke or any other sugar drink and stay with water.
Don’t attend every talk
In the past, I attended every single talk. In my experience there is always one talk that doesn’t spark my interest. Nowadays, I don’t feel bad skipping a talk and find a place to sit down to reflect upon what I learned and maybe research some of the topics further. As mentioned above, you can take the time and go for a walk outside, too. This not only helped me to deepen my understanding of some of the topics, but also recharge for the next talk.
Don’t party late
I know this might be unpopular, but sitting and listening to talks for eight hours and going to a party every night and drinking beer, isn’t going to supercharge you for the next day. Don’t get me wrong, this can be fun and you might feel that you need to socialize to be “cool” or “accepted”, but in the sense of “surviving” a conference this is not in your best interest.
These are the guidelines, I’ve started to follow for conferences. I’ll be happy to discuss this further or hear your comments.