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August 31, 2007

The Official Non-Attendee's Guide to Conferences

By Y.M. Ousley

Lee Odden is asking how many conferences your boss sends you to. What do you do when your company isn't sending you to any conferences? Or, when you are your own company and you can't afford to attend all of the conferences you'd like to?

If you're like me, you're reading all of the SES San Jose recaps and wrap-ups and eagerly anticipating Rebecca's comic genius. Fret not, there's more that you can do to make up for missing the action in person.

  1. Visit the website    
    The schedules from each day are still online, along with links to information on the speakers. With so many session recaps and insights (here, here, here and here, just to name a few), you can get a pretty good idea of how the sessions came together. Most speakers have links to their blogs or websites in their bios on the SES website. Use them! More specifically, use them to learn more about the people giving the presentations.  
  1. Use their blogs    
    Not in any shady way of course. No one will keep you in mind or give you any extra information for spamming their blog to death, or stealing their feed for your MFA (made for AdSense) site. No, since you didn't have a chance to meet face to face, this is your equivalent of introducing yourself at the conference. Comment on posts that you find interesting, whether you agree or disagree. Whichever side you're on, do it with factual evidence and in a way that will promote discussion – not banning. For blogs that support it, an insightful post with a trackback and quick email to the author can have a much bigger impact than a regular comment.
     
  2. Hit Flickr    
    Where to start? There's massive amounts of pictorial coverage from sessions, official parties, unofficial parties and hotel bar discussions. Personally, I think that's where all of the really good stuff happens. A little liquor, a relaxed environment and you'll get a few off-the-record gems that no session recap (or attendance) will include. You can't immediately replicate that online, but you can get an idea of personalities, and the people you'll want to get to know at future events.

  3. Hit the Social Networks    
    Nearly everyone I've met at a conference is on Facebook or LinkedIn as well. If you paid attention to step 2, then you at least have some name recognition for commenting frequently. If you don't like dealing with rejection, as in lots of ignored network and friend requests, make sure you establish some sort of relationship prior to hitting the Add button.

  4. Hit the Live Events    
    At the end of the day, meeting someone whose work you admire, establishing a sense of community and making lasting friendships or connections is something that is best enhanced through meeting offline. If you've done what you need to online, by the time your boss does send you to a conference, your experience will be far beyond what you could expect by blindly exchanging business cards or swarming the table after a presentation. For those on a budget, most conferences offer free exhibit hall passes which allow you to take in keynotes and network in the conference location. If you're on a super tight budget, hate to fly, have a fear of conferences, etc. get to know the SEOs in your area and organize your own off conference event.  

That's it, 5 easy steps to working the room when your boss or budget makes you work your desk during all the fun stuff. It's been one week after San Jose, and this is the perfect time to start making contacts. All the flight delays are over, most people are sober, and the influx of post-conference emails is probably easing so that your attempts at contact won't get lost in the shuffle.

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