What my first conference taught me

July 25, 2018

laptop and notepad on desk

Let’s start getting the most out of conferences without missing everything because we are too busy with our heads down, trying to write every word down.

Backstory

I recently went to my first tech conference UpFront Conf 2018 in Manchester, UK. UpFront Conf is all in the name, it’s a front-end development conference which has a great set of talks about the front end development spectrum.

They had a great line up of speakers which I would recommend checking out including @wesbos, Laura Carvajal, Anna Migas and more. You should hit them up on twitter they post some great content.

I thought I would write this blog post about why you should go to these conferences and how you should go about taking things away from them. After all, if you pay the price for the tickets you want to make sure they are worth it.

Lets go!

The conferences itinerary was full of interesting topics and the good thing was a lot of them I had never heard of. Some people worry that there is no point in going to the conference because they have no idea about some of the topics. This should not be the case!

Simply don’t worry if the topics go straight over your head. It’s not the point of the conference to make you an expert in a topic you have only just heard of. A lot of the talks were very basic levels of something that goes a lot deeper. The key point of the conference was introductions. you don’t want to pay to learn things you already know!

I was lucky because the day before the conference I met Stephen Owen, he runs the conference’s workshop. He also runs Manchester FRED meetup which is definitely worth checking out. His pro tip was having an organised notebook. No secret formulas here and no photographic memory required. just a notepad. In my UpFront Conf swag bag was a notebook, Ideal.

I made 3 columns with 3 headings:

  • Have a go
  • Get some assistance
  • No idea

I was ready to take notes. but…

note taking gif

…people talk fast. Way to fast. There is no way I was going to write down everything the talkers were saying. So I took this simple approach. When talkers mentioned a topic or showed me something I wanted to do I would jot down a very simple header or note. Just enough so that if I look at it in 2 weeks I would remember what I was writing about. I usually just jotted down the talk description the talkers’ name and some of the topics I wanted to look into.

The key trick is throwing these into the columns that you think they belong in. Here is how I broke down the three columns I mentioned earlier.

Have a go was something I already knew a fair amount about and I could jump into confidently straight after the conference. This is something you may already be doing but want to try out what the talker was saying.

Get some assistance is something I may know about but I’m not confident on it or I need to look more into it before going forward. This could be as simple as reading a blog post or some documentation for whatever it is they were showing or looking through some example projects etc.

The best column and the one most of my notes ended up in was no idea column. This was things I saw at the conference and I was amazed by, but I had never heard of them before or had no idea how to implement them at all. For this, I will need to spend real time looking into it. I would need to learn a new framework or look into some online courses etc.

What happens after?

After the conference, I had a notebook full of notes. Over the next few days, I spent time looking into some of the topics that the talkers had been promoting and the method of note taking sped this up dramatically.

I didn’t have to decipher my rushed note’s because they were not rushed. They were simple concise headers with the topic name and the name of the talker. I made the minimal amount of notes possible which allowed me to enjoy the talks fully but not worry about forgetting the content later on.

This obviously is one approach of many that you could take at a conference. It worked for me and I would highly recommend trying out for yourself, tailor it. You don’t need my exact headers I just threw them together beforehand and got lucky that it worked out.

Tell me if this method works for you or tell me your pro conference tips, I would love to hear them!