Contemplating IABC World Conference Takeaways

   I was not able to attend the IABC World Conference in Chicago, but it had me thinking about the general state of conferences, small and large and near and far. I was fortunate to attend the IABC World Conference in San Francisco in 2009. It was a great experience for my first time though the size of it was overwhelming at first. As the finance board member for the IABC Phoenix Chapter for the last two years, I was also able to attend the 2012 IABC Leadership Institute (my recap) in Miami back in February. I enjoyed the scope and size of these smaller board member-only sessions.

   Is there a universal term in today’s parlance for people who enthusiastically attend many conferences? There must be; people who hit the road to see all the Phish or Dead concerts were Phishheads and Deadheads. People who work and travel with carnivals are often tagged as “carnies”. Those who find themselves booked constantly for in-town and nationwide industry shows could be dubbed “conference carnies,” but let’s use denizens, as it sounds more academic and flattering.

Below are my notes of conference etiquette that denizens and novices at a major conference might consider. I don’t profess to be a seasoned conference connoisseur; these are just my observations and preferences for attaining conference satisfaction.

  1. If there is a group of veteran attendees at a conference hobnobbing in the lobby or in common areas between panels and someone notices an attendee by himself or herself, it might be helpful if he or she reaches out to any seemingly isolated or disoriented individuals and bring them into the fold. An informal orientation or camaraderie-building, ice-breaking exercise could really make that person’s experience more rewarding and memorable for any such unique effort.
  2. For some industry shows, I’ve seen attendees wearing lengthy lanyards displaying credentials and honors. While their accomplishments are impressive, admirable and a model of aspiration for younger members and new attendees, I wonder if they might exhibit humility or more gregariousness so others might be less weary of striking up a conversation? Sometimes I wonder if these veteran denizens could take on more of a greeter/ambassador role and be more proactive in outreaching to newcomers or assisting in their venue orientation.
  3. If you are a panelist and your enthusiasm really gets you going as the discussion unfolds, that is great and will really make the session worthwhile for all. Remember to reach a breaking point and pass the mic, so your fellow panelists can enjoy some of the advertised air time they were promised and don’t have to impersonate a totem pole.
  4. I’m a big proponent of a one-sheet takeaway (two-sided is fine too) on the dais or a table in the back of the room. This is helpful for two reasons:  1) Those who arrive late, leave early or can’t make it, can just pop by for the sheet at their convenience; and 2) If the slide deck is not posted at a later date or attendees just don’t follow through on downloading, they can still potentially garner some value from the summary cheat sheet as if they had stayed through the whole presentation and Q&A.
  5. Be altruistic and selfless if your co-workers, colleagues and friends were unable to make the show. Collect duplicates of takeaways, cards, flyers and brochures to take home with you. Make note of upcoming key dates for other webinars and events to share with your social networks.
  6. If you are representing your group or department, keep that in mind and pop in and out of sessions to maximize the fact that you are one person and there are several simultaneous tracks going on [here is where the take-away sheets benefit the "multi-attendee"]. Organizers of the Podcamp AZ “unconference” espouse the “two feet rule” – as in, if the session isn’t what you thought it would be or you already know what they are covering, then you can walk at your leisure.
  7. As much as I admire the hashtags and stream of conference updates, this isn’t 2009 anymore. The novelty, if it was one, is over. Once a handful of people have jumped in and are relaying key points from a presentation or panel, it becomes a little tedious and saturated. I would much rather peruse an attendee’s most pertinent takeaways or recap blog later that night or the next day then have to scroll through redundant real-time “preso reporting”.

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