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Conference Tips and Tricks

Matt Trask • December 20, 2018

Read Time: 3 mins

conferences speaking community

So you get to go to a conference? That's awesome! Conferences have had a huge impact on my career. From attending to speaking (and keynoting) to organizing, I've done it all. Along the way, I've changed how I attend conferences and hope to give you some tips to take with you.

Bring a water bottle.

This was a game changer at Midwest PHP. I don't know what prompted me to bring it, but I can say that I won't forget it in the future. Conferences have alot going on. And it's easy to forget the simple things like drinking water and staying hydrated. If you don't have something to reminder you, a bottle per se; it's not hard to go a great while without some water. More importantly, conferences tend to offer sodas/coffee/teas/booze so if you want to go the distance, having a near constant source of water helps. I love my liter Nalgene bottle, but get one that works for you.

Don't be afraid to talk to speakers.

I did a podcast a few weeks ago and the host admitted to me that he saw me at Sunshine PHP but was too nervous to talk to me. First off, Im like 5'4 and not gonna hurt anyone so don't be too nervous. Second, Im quite cuddly. Im a big softie, until a car tries to run me off the road. One thing speakers tend to do is bunch up with other speakers. It's a natural thing. Most of us are friends and this is a way for us to hang out, catch up, and chill. Don't think for a second it's some sort of secret club. We are just people too! Just say hey, if Im busy working on something I will tell you, but generally nothing is too pressing for me to do that.

A pro tip for me: bring whiskey or a bike and we are instant besties.

Take a day and explore the city you are in.

One of the reasons I love speaking is it's a fun way to travel. I've gotten to see some awesome cities: Minneapolis, Portland, DC, Miami, and soon Austin. There is so much to see and do in these cities that I try my hardest now to either plan a day trip or take an extra day to see things. My current thing is renting a bike and riding around the city. I get to get some new Strava PRs hopefully, see the city from a fun way, and interact with the residents! If you can't stay an extra day, dip out on one of the after parties and go exploring! The conference will be there when you get back, and you get to have a cool experience.

If you are in DC for a conference, try to take 2 days and just explore some of the 19 Smithsonian Museums. They are all free, and cover a wide range of topics from American History to Aviation History to African American History and so much more. I could easily spend 3 days in the Air and Space Museum alone.

Come to the conference with an uncon talk.

A lot of conferences have an uncon, a space where anyone can speak. People use it as a way to demo a talk and see what the reaction is, or use it to practice their speaking skills. It's a great way to get into speaking without the pressure of really speaking. A lot of conferences will add it to the ratings site, which gets you two things: a track record for other conferences to see and also some feedback (hopefully).