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Why you should go to conferences

By , August 25, 2011 10:12 am

Why should you go to a conference?

I’m sure there are many different answers to this question, but I’m posing this question in response to the first question Rob Walling asked me when I arrived at MicroConf. “What are you hoping to get from MicroConf?”. I was a bit blindsided by the question – I’d had 5 hours sleep after a long journey starting at 5AM in a timezone 8 hours different. I just didn’t have an answer. Which I guess left those in the group we were talking in a bit puzzled – its not the hardest question in the world.

I never used to go to conferences. I was full of the self-doubt and “I’m a fake, a fraud, I don’t know what I’m doing.” anxiety that it seems so many entrepreneurs have. I live in the middle of nowhere and despite Cambridge being 20 miles down the road with the famous university, Science Park, Innovation Centre etc I don’t know any of the folks there. So my view of my business was rather limited to my own perspective. And you really do need other people’s perspectives. I still haven’t got to many meetups in Cambridge – something to work on (its work that keeps me away from the meetups!).

European Software Conference

I’d ummm’d and arr’d about going to Business of Software twice and never quite done it. So having screwed up on going to BoS 2010 I thought what the hell I’ll go to the European Software Conference in Vienna in November. The worst that could happen would that I’d speak to no one and have a boring few days on the outskirts of Vienna. The ESWC website is horrible. Its living in the past, design wise – it doesn’t fill you with confidence. The conference is not particularly well attended. Some of the speakers are good (for example: Dave Collins of Software Promotions) and some less so. A mixed bag. But the good speakers were worth listening to. I hired one of them for a consulting gig a few months later.

However the socialising, meeting other software developers and business owners. That was great. It was also tiring – not uncommon for some people to still be in the bar at 2AM (on the last night it was about 4AM for some of us) talking about stuff. And all done sitting down, having a drink and a chat.

This experience was great – people were surprised at what I’d managed to acheive. Plenty of validation for what I’d been doing. And from the speakers I found interesting, some useful hints, tips and ideas.

This was completely different to the MicroConf meetup experience which was all standing up and which ended early (everyone had gone by 11:30PM). I think that may be a cultural thing. I can live with it ending early, but I hate the standing up chatting thing, sitting is so much nicer (and you drink less if you sit).

MicroConf

So Why did I go to MicroConf? Simple – if I got one good idea from any of the speakers or from any of the attendees that would be a good enough reason to go to MicroConf. Good ideas are hard to come by. People complain at the cost of books. Rubbish, books are cheap – a good book is filled to the brim with advice, some of which may be application to your situation and which may not know. How much would it cost to hire a consultant or expert to get the same advice? Exactly. So although my plane ticket to MicroConf cost more than the conference itself, I got a lot of interesting hints, tips, insights from MicroConf. And I came home a lot more focussed and more importantly interested in different things than before I went to MicroConf.

Business of Software

I haven’t been to the previous Business of Software conferences and each time afterward I’ve regretted it. I’m going this year. Its much more expensive than MicroConf. But if I get one good idea, or a change/improvement in focus/attitude then I’m sure it will have been worth the effort.

Conclusion

So next time you’re umming and arring about whether you should spend what seems like a lot of money travelling to another country, paying for the conference, the hotel and all the other costs, stop thinking about the expense and think about that possibilities for change as a result of attending.

That said, there is a limit. I would not attend the $10,000 a day marketing conferences. I can’t see that level of expenditure being recouped – I’m not in that business. After all, what you get is an intangible.

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