Smarty Pants: No Way to Meet

How to get absolutely nothing out of your next conference

I go to about 60 conferences a year. As such, I know that you’re supposed to learn something at them. You’re supposed to pick up some best practices and engage in critical networking and probably some other useful stuff. In fact, I was originally going to write this article about all those useful things you can get at conferences.

But then I remembered that I’m supposed to eat vegetables. That’s what my mom always said, at least, but the only vegetables she eats are corn and baked potatoes, and she’s in her 60s. So do I really need to eat a well-balanced diet in order to live a long and happy life? And is it really so bad to read in the dark? My mom taught me that one, too, but the research says otherwise. Why did my mom lie to me so often?

However, I’m not here to burden you with my childhood traumas. I’m here to encourage you to be your own person, to do what you want to do at your next conference instead of what you’re supposed to do. Will the following recommendations cripple your career? Possibly. But possibly not, and they will definitely be a lot more fun. Uselessness, engage!

Use every session to “catch up on work.” I put catch up on work in quotations because what you’re usually doing is playing video games and scanning sports scores on your phone or laptop while the moron at the podium keeps droning on about whatever boring crap he or she is droning on about. Most conference attendees hope to walk away with at least two or three great ideas they can put into practice as soon as they get back home, but the problem is that it’s impossible to know where those two or three ideas are going to come from. They definitely won’t come while you’re sitting at a table by yourself and ignoring the world around you.

Play trick or treat with the exhibitors. In a desperate attempt to buy your affection, most exhibitors have some giveaway to entice you to listen to them. (In this sense, they are very much like parents around Christmastime.) Now it’s possible that these exhibitors also have products and services that would be of significant benefit to you and your company—but you should ignore that possibility in favor of frantically grabbing whatever swag you can scoop into your giant conference bag. The best of you will simply walk up to each booth, ask, “Can I have more than one?” and then walk away without uttering another word.

Drink waaaaay too much! I would be criminally remiss if I didn’t throw this one in here. Conferences are supposed to be an educational and networking opportunity unlike anything you could get back at home. But that’s just what the conference organizers think a conference is for. For conference attendees, a conference can and should be an opportunity to relive your single days.

Your spouse and kids probably aren’t around, and you don’t have any chores or curfew—so what are you waiting for? Drink yourself blind every night, wake up a little bit later every morning and trust that the plane trip home will cure your hangover in time for you to be halfway presentable to the people you have to be nice to once you get back into your normal routine. Besides, I can’t even tell you how disappointed I’d be if I weren’t able to collect a few “guess what so-and-so did at the hotel bar last night” stories along the way. My current personal favorite is the shirtless guy wandering around in what I can only assume was a one-person conga line, but I’ll bet you can do even better!

Only spend time with the people you came with. Every conference offers the possibility of meeting some great new people and making some important new business connections. But every conference also offers the possibility of ending up in some seriously boring conversations. That’s why you should talk only with people you already know, which is the same logic I’ve used to justify being friends only with people I went to preschool with.

Every year we manage to organize more and more conferences, despite the fact that technology would seem to have the ability to make them obsolete. There must be some reason that people still find value in leaving their jobs for a few days to convene, learn, share, joke and discuss ideas with each other. Fortunately for you, I have no idea what those reasons are. So kick back, relax and make sure you bring an extra suitcase! You’ll need it for all that swag you’ll be hauling home.


Jeff Havens is a professional development expert who addresses leadership, generational issues and other topics through a unique blend of content and entertainment. jeffhavens.com

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