A Year on the Conference Circuit

Paul Boag

don’t feel like you’re going to be out of your depth when attending one, there isn’t a test at the end or anything..

This week’s feature has stemmed from a listener who asked “which conference would I suggest for a first timer”? And “how difficult is it if you don’t actually know anyone there”? Having attended a couple of the big conferences this year I thought it would be useful to share my experiences

Ah conferences, how we love thee. Conferences are a fantastic mechanism for networking and learning, wrapped up in a nice little bundle along with a steady supply of tea and Danish pastries.

Conferences I can personally vouch for are Future of Web Design (organised by Carsonified) and @media (organised by Vivabit), which both have quite different “feels” to them in my opinion.

Future of Web Design

FOWD is a one day conference, with no food (food is very important at these things), but is very affordable at around £150 (not including the workshops).

This year’s conference was chaired by non other than Paul Boag himself and featured guest speakers like Patrick McNeil, Andy Budd and Daniel Burka. The Carsonified guys seem big on networking, they organised a before and after party for the conference with substantial tabs behind the bars. It was a great opportunity to mingle with the attendees and speakers pre and post conference.

@media

@media is a two day conference with excellent food; however it’s more expensive at around £500, although @media runs two tracks (primary and secondary) of presentations which obviously means twice as many speakers and is in general a much larger event than FOWD. This years @media saw the appearance of speakers like Jeffery Veen, Jonathan Snook, Dan Rubin and Andy Clarke. In contrast the Vivabit guys focused on the learning, a longer conference, with more speakers and a modest after party in the lobby on the final day.

Cost

I compare prices of these conferences only because expense is always a consideration, and when you’ve taken into account accommodation, train tickets etc, the old credit card is often left quivering in your pocket but expect to pay on average, around £150 per day for the big conferences.

Speakers

Arguably the most important part of any conference is the quality of the speakers. And both FOWD and @media didn’t disappoint in this regard, Andy Clarke even spoke at both. Speakers’ reputations often precede them and it’s a simple matter to research the event before hand to see if the people talking are the people you’d like to hear from.

Everyone’s in the Same Boat

One thing that is universal about web design conferences is the friendly crowds they attract, it’s good to remember that everyone is there for the same reasons and it’s easy to drum up conversation and find mutual ground on a topic you have in common with someone else. The general advice is to just go and say hello! And that goes for introducing yourself to speakers as well. They’re not the kind of rock stars that disappear behind a curtain at the end of a show! Most of them can be found mingling with the crowd at the end of day looking for people to talk to just like you. In fact I can’t remember if it was Jonathan Snook or Dan Rubin who said to me “It would be nice if more people came up to talk to them.”

Still to Come This Year

The year is not over yet, there are plenty of conferences still to come:

And likely many more.

Conclusion

In conclusion there isn’t a conference for beginners as such but it’s safe to say that these types of conferences are deliberately aimed at a broad audience to make them accessible to as many people as possible. So don’t feel like you’re going to be out of your depth when attending one, there isn’t a test at the end or anything.

As for not knowing anyone, it up to you to be sociable, introduce yourself and don’t be shy, if you’re struggling, go stand near a crowd and invariably someone will turn around and start talking to you.

By Ryan Taylor (Thanks to Paul Stanton for the title)

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