(Updated Oct 6, 2017) I love going to conferences. They’re the most productive way to spend your day, even if some think it’s a waste of time. And it’s only a waste of time, if
1) the conference is badly run,
2) the speakers are terrible, or
3) you’re uninterested in the topics.
2 out of 3 of those are factors out of your hands, so if your experience with conferences has been nothing but unhappiness, then sad reacts for you. I hope today’s article inspires you to go out and find a great or at least, a better-than-what-you’ve-experienced-already conference to go to.
Admittedly, conferences are a huge time suck. You never know in advance how good it’ll be, how much you’re going to learn and grow from it, or if it’s worth all the time you’re spending there. It’s a gamble. Unless it has a great reputation of being life changing. And that reputation is at least 3 years old. (A year old reputation doesn’t mean much because what if they can’t pull off another fantastic event the year after the original fantastic event. Last year’s event might have been a one-trick pony.)
So, to help guide you all, here’s my 1 simple rule for choosing conferences I spend my weekends or even weekdays at.
The speaker lineup.
Will I learn something from them? Are they people who speak well? Do they attract a crowd of smart, interesting people to come and listen to them? Simple, personal, extremely subjective criteria. Think of it like concerts. I wouldn’t waste my time and money, listening to someone I didn’t truly love.
For example, my speaker idol is Merlee Jayme, chairmom and CEO of Dentsu Jayme Syfu. I love her. I am one of those silent, stalkerish fans who knows what she’s doing based on her social media. If she is speaking at an event, there is a 60% chance I will go, with the other 40% comprising of “how much does this conference cost?”, “where is it being held?”, and “do I have someone to drag with me there?” Normal logistical concerns.
“But Justine, she’s an advertising executive with a phenomenal record of being a creative giant in her field, and you’re into sales and technology. How does listening to her at various conferences help you?” Good question. Why /do/ I go to talks like hers, even if there’s technically nothing I can outright learn and apply from her?
Find out the answer in today’s article.
Before we get started though, introductions first. I’m Justine, and this is The Border Collective, the only blog in the Philippines about interning, resumes, and job hunting as young (and really privileged, in case it wasn’t obvious) millennials.
Think of a conference this way. You get to meet new friends, new mentors, maybe even a potential significant other in a venue that you know is filled only with people who share a common interest with you. Bonus points if it takes initiative to sign up or if there was a screening test to attend the conference. Those are the kind of places where we need to network as much as we can, because those are the places populated with the kind of friends we want to make.
Protip for making new friends at conferences: bring only 1 friend. Go around together as a pair, find people you think are interesting to talk to (yes, I am advocating we judge books by their cover) and if you guys feel the need to brag during the conversations, brag about each other. Amplify each other. Be each other’s loudest cheerleader.
For example, “This is my friend Betina, she’s the best 21-year-old headhunter in all of East Asia. If anyone knows about recruiting, employer branding, or even just working as HR in the Philippines, it’s her.“ See, it’s arrogant if she says it out loud but not as arrogant if I say it. Plus, if she does a sheepish, embarrassed smile while I talk, she comes off even better. Tactics.
2. Chance to meet the influencers and idols of your field at the conference
Nobody would ask a non-expert to speak about something in a reputable conference. So if they ask a non-expert to speak, rethink about going to that conference. Or rethink if this person is actually, secretly, possibly in some alternate universe, an expert already. I say this because people started asking us to talk more and more, and now I’m starting to wonder if people think I’m an expert. I don’t feel the pressure right now. Back to topic.
Take a deep breath, and talk to them. They’re just people after all. People who have done something pretty extraordinary with their short time on earth, but still, people. Tell them they inspire you, you admire their work, and then ask them a thoughtful question that’s tangentially related to their talk. Everyone consistently underestimates how sincere, enthusiastic praise helps warm people’s hearts in an instant. Everyone likes hearing they did a great job. Everyone. Including you, who’s reading this. So, complete sidebar, but go out there and tell someone you admire that you admire them. Bonus points if you explain in a concrete way what about them you admire.
Alternatively, you can ask them if you can assist in their research in any way, if you can connect with them over email or Facebook, or if they can be a guest speaker at an event you’re organizing in the future. Find a way to get them to remember you. But not because you’re a creep or worse, some condescending kid who thinks he knows the topic at hand better than the speaker does.
This is the most tangible, long term effect from conferences, so please grow a thick skin and say hello to your idols. I promise you, it’s worth that 5 minutes of horrifying embarrassment.
3. Getting some ~ inspiration ~
You feel smarter and more inspired after a conference. I’m not making this up. Science backs me up here. Getting outside of your comfort zone and into a place of learning does wonders for your productivity, creativity, and your personality. Have you noticed that listening to outside perspectives or just changing your scenery can do wonders for your productivity? That’s why we like going to coffee shops or co-working spaces. Or having a productive, unrestrained talk with someone also equally interested in our current mania. Breaking routine forces us to refocus on the task at hand instead of just going through the motions brought about by our regular work space.
I love scheduling little excursions outside of my habitual haunts because I know I’m getting something useful out of it. I’m getting jolted out of my habits. Even if it’s just for a mental break. Museums, new restaurants, going out for dinner with people I miss. Those are great mental breaks to halt the monotony of your everyday. But if I want to take a hyper productive mental break, conferences are my best bet.
After all, being in a venue filled with people constantly thinking about the same topic as you is bound to cause interesting conversations, since you’re all injecting a different perspective and experience to the topics at hand. Just talking about what the speaker just said with your seatmate during intermission can spark a new way for you to approach the problems at hand.
You never know when inspiration will strike, but you can keep a lightning rod up for it until it’s a regular occurrence in your life.
4. Sharing what you know
The best thing about social media being so ubiquitous is that a great quote can be shared in 140 characters less than a minute after the speaker uttered it. That’s one of my fave side effects of conferences actually. Searching the hashtag will bring up a treasure trove of condensed insights, perfect for retweeting and for ruminating over when I’m trying to procrastinate proactively.
Teaching what you learned is the surefire way to remembering and internalizing everything you heard at the conference. Take it upon yourself to be an active participant at conferences. Note down what you’ve heard, connect it with a different talk you attended, discuss with others there on anything and everything about the topic. And at the end, be the one who brings these new perspectives and points to work.
Bring what you learned back to your work and coworkers. Condense the highlights, write a blog post about it, make a hand out, make your own presentation to send to your group about “this is what I learned those 2 days you couldn’t reach me”. Share share share the knowledge you gained at that conference.
Or keep it all to yourself so that you can get ahead.
5. Why not?
Unless your schedule is full of something actually productive, and provided it’s completely feasible in terms of time and distance, you might as well go. You never know who you’re going to meet or what you might learn. Beats staying at home and binge-watching Riverdale. (Although do make time for occasional fun mental breaks too.)
And that’s it for today’s post on why you should go to conferences. Maybe someday when I’m not super lazy, I can continue writing about what to do at conferences, how to use the knowledge from it to get ahead, etc. But for now, I am super lazy and swamped from thesis sem to do anything that isn’t on my to-do list.
Except to maybe go to a conference. Like this one.
The Harvard Undergraduate Women in Business UP Diliman Campus Ambassadors and Woman Up 2017 Team proudly present:
WOMAN UP 2017: BREAKING THROUGH
Come, forge connections, and converge ideas in the biggest convention for woman empowerment in the metro!
Join us as we engage with some of the brightest women in our society who shall talk about their experiences as leaders in their own field, inspiring a network of young women to uphold a community empowerment and gender equality.
Break the conventions. Cease the blindspots. Come to Woman Up 2017: Breaking Through
Matec Villaneuva – former Chairman & CEO of Publicis Manila and Marketing Consultant for CNN Philippines
Danah and Stacy Gutierrez — authors and body positivity advocates
Leanne Espina — Sport Management Professional
Bianca Gonzalez-Intal — TV Host and Model
Dr. Gia Sison — Blogger, Doctor, and Consultant
Gladys Basinillo — CEO, Carat Philippines
Sign up now at tinyurl.com/WomanUp2017
Woman Up welcomes all genders and universities
Illustration by: Farah Baldos
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Internship FAQ is a slot for me to share things I’ve learned over the course of my internships (and probably early work years), so that you guys don’t have to trial and error this stuff like I did. It’s my way of giving back because I wish that when I was a freshman, a resource like TBC existed to help guide me to not wasting my time on things that don’t work.
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Most of my advice is very different from other career “experts”, since I actually tried and tested it myself. And because, you know, I’m a Chinese girl in the Philippines who tried out for almost every multinational here, while building contacts up in the startup world.
So, expect it to be very contextualized for Asians, women, and // or millennials // Gen Z-ers.
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