Conferences have always posed a conundrum for me, having attended, presented, exhibited and been involved in organising many over the years I’ve found they can be fantastic or they can be an exhausting waste of time, money and effort. I could take the easy road here and say what you get out of a conference is up to you – but is it really that simple? there are many variables in play, quality of speakers, cost, networking opportunities, as an exhibitor the showcase area and time with the punters to name a few.

As an employer like many CEO’s I do look for ways to quantify the return on investment for both the staff member attending and the company – but there isn’t a magic formula for that either, the value we derive may differ from conference to conference, person to person so the assessment of value falls back to good old gut feel in many instances.

As an exhibitor there is the added dimension of being seen to be exhibiting at a particular event. Exhibiting and presenting are both huge investments in time and $$ but there are creative ways to realise value from that investment and to date our role in exhibiting and speaking has been a purely brand awareness one – so we try to make a splash, get noticed and we hope our antics and copious quantities of orange jetplanes have helped OptimalBI stick in people’s minds.

Don’t get me wrong I LOVE conferences, what I love about them is the networking. This year we sponsored the NZ Oracle User Group conference in my home town, a conference I have a long history with as a speaker and organiser so it was nice to attend in a different role. There I caught up with many former colleagues, staff, customers and suppliers – it was awesome to reconnect, share stories and learn about their current lives. Some of my team however didn’t realise the same value not knowing all those old DBA’s who were drawn to the event to meet Tom Kyte. They found it flat and very vendor rhetoric heavy – a good example of different perspectives and expectations in play.

Direct value or otherwise here are my top 5 tips for getting the most out of your conference experience, having fun as ever is implied so remember to have fun too:

# 1 Network –  Network like there is no tomorrow, here at this event are people with similar interests, skills and experience so it’s a perfect opportunity to meet new people in your industry or reconnect with old colleagues. If you are a little introverted and Networking isn’t your thing – look for the extroverts like me and go say hi, we love to talk to anyone and we even introduce people to others. Have a goal of handing out 20 business cards, and collecting 20 in return, use something the keynote said as your ice breaker for small talk.

# 2 Be Prepared – research the agenda and the speakers, this conference is costing you money so plan who and what you want to see  and listen to. If there are speakers or vendors or panel members you want to meet stalk them on LinkedIN so you know what they look like and go introduce yourself in one of the breaks. Even research the rooms to ensure you get to / from the sessions you are most keen on quickly.

# 3 Your elevator pitch – prepare your own elevator pitch, when you meet someone know how you want to describe yourself, it’s inevitable the question of “what do you do” will come up, have a good script ready and you will leave a strong impression.

# 4 Talk to the exhibitors – they have spent loads of time preparing their stand, thinking about what they are giving away so will be keen as mustard to have you stop by and say hello. Collect their free stuff and use them as part of your networking opportunity. They are also a wealth of information on the topic of the conference, technology and sector you are in – leverage them to expand your experience, you never know when those contacts will come in handy in the future.

# 5 Share your conference experience – write a review, prepare an internal presentation back to your team, write a blog about the conference and what you learned. This will help you solidify what the key messages were, where you found the value and, in relaying this back to your team, places you in the role of “go to” person for that new technology, system, process or service you told them about.

So watch out SAS Forum in Sydney next week (August 8th), armed with #OptimalOrange t-shirts, bags of #OptimalOrange jetplane lollies, our SAS Visual Analytics expertise and these top tips the 14 OptimalBI delegates will be making a splash and having loads of fun. Enjoy your conference experiences. Vic.

The photo booth was loads of fun!

The photo booth was loads of fun!

You can see other hilarious photos from the NZ Oracle User Group conference here  http://www.enterpriseit.co.nz/nzoug