What to Expect at Your First YOW! Conference
by Kris Howard, Director of Developer Relations
Happy 2017, everyone! Since most of the meetup groups go on hiatus around the holidays, I haven’t had any fodder for a Meetup Wrap in a long time. On the upside it’s been very relaxing, and it’s given me the opportunity to reflect on the many YOW! events I’ve attended in the past year. I’ve been lucky enough to experience it from three different aspects: as an attendee, as a speaker, and as a YOW! representative. I thought it might be fun to pass on advice to those who’ve never attended a YOW! Conference before. (Actually this is pretty much applicable to all tech conferences!)
First and foremost – do your best to get to the venue bright and early. You’ll need to collect your badge, T-shirt, and swag, and there will be several hundred others looking to do the same. Best to avoid the crush if you can! It’s also a great time to start networking with new people as well as old friends and former colleagues.
— Suncorp Group (@SuncorpGroup) December 1, 2016
Getting there early will also give you plenty of time to fuel up and hydrate. Thanks to the generosity of our sponsors, YOW! usually has a barista onsite to make coffee in the morning. If you come late, you may find yourself waiting at the end of the queue…
While you’re caffeinating, it’s a good time to plan out your day. YOW! runs several events throughout the year – some of them are smaller and dedicated to a particular theme, while the main conference in December is huge and wide-ranging. Depending on the number of speakers, there will usually be two or three different “tracks” of talks happening at the same time. Each track is colour coded and corresponds to a different room. Your best friend is the conference schedule! It will tell you what’s happening and where to go. Fortunately, you don’t have to rely on your phone to get it. The YOW! folks have helpfully printed included one behind your badge. (Pro tip: on Day Two, just flip it over!)
— YOW! Australia (@yow_conf) December 5, 2016
Even with a schedule, it can be daunting to figure out which talks you want to attend. It’s always a good idea to look at the speaker information on the website ahead of time to get a feel for the topics. There will also be an entertaining overview of sessions at the start of each day, which will give more information and a reminder of which talks are in which room. (It’s also where you’ll find out about any last minute changes. Another reason not to be late!)
— Paul Rayner (@thepaulrayner) November 30, 2016
Conference days will start with a keynote, and there may be a closing keynote in the evening as well. These are invited, world-class speakers that you don’t want to miss! I suggest you get a seat near the front early as latecomers sometimes end up standing at the back.
While you’re at the conference, try to resist the urge to answer emails/jump on Slack/solve problems back at the office. It’ll all still be there in two days. This is time for your professional development – time to learn from experts, get new ideas, and share your experiences with your peers. Be present!
That said – you may still want your laptop or mobile for taking notes or contributing on social media. Don’t forget to check the hashtag! I also suggest you bring an extra battery or power cable, and a backup method for getting online.
A few minutes before each session, there will be a chime letting you know it’s time to start heading to the next talk. Try to make a point to attend something out of your comfort zone. It may end up being your favourite talk of the day! Don’t worry if you miss a session. All talks will eventually be available on the YOW! YouTube channel, and the slides are posted on the YOW! website afterwards.
As you finish each session, volunteers at the doors will be waiting to capture your feedback on the talk by a simple iPad click. Sometimes this can slow down the exit a bit, so please be patient. (If you’re staying in the room for the next session, the volunteers will try bring the iPad around to you.) Be sure to vote! This feedback is provided to the program committee and speakers who use it to improve their talks in the future. If you have specific feedback, you can always give it to the speaker or a member of the YOW! team directly, or send it to email@example.com.
In a lot of ways, the “Hallway Track” can be just as rewarding as the talks. Resist the urge to just hang out with your colleagues. I know it’s hard (especially if you’re introverted), but make an effort to introduce yourself to new people. Ask them which sessions they’ve enjoyed. Ask them what they’re going to attend in the next session. Share your own experiences with something mentioned in the keynote. This is a great way to make new friends and connections in the industry! Another tip is to include your Twitter handle (if you have one) on your badge, and make sure it’s flipped around so people can read it.
Speakers want to talk to you!? Definitely go talk to them. When I was an attendee, I imagined that the speakers were very busy or only wanted to talk to very important people. The reality is the total opposite! Most speakers are up on stage because they enjoy communicating, and they’d love to dive into an area further or answer your questions. If they seem to be mainly talking to other speakers, that’s usually just because no one else approaches them! Be brave and say hello. (End of the day drinks are a great time for this, so don’t head off too early.) The speakers are there for you, so seek them out and ask your questions. If you can’t find a speaker you want to talk to, speak to a member of the YOW! team and they will help you.
YOW! isn’t just talks, of course. There’s also good FOOD! There are multiple serving queues so don’t stop at the first and longest one. If you have special dietary requirements, your food will be in a separate location so ask someone on the YOW! team if you can’t find it! Once you do get your food, avoid the impulse to go off and sit by yourself. Take the opportunity to share a table and talk to someone new. (Another pro tip: if you see someone walking by with something especially delicious, always ask them where they got it! You don’t want to miss out on ice cream or doughnuts…)
— YOW! Australia (@yow_conf) December 5, 2016
Conferences have an exhibition space, so be sure to drop by the sponsors. Their support makes events like YOW! possible, and this is a great time to learn more about what they do. You could play with the latest tech, pick up some cool swag, and possibly even win a prize…
— YOW! Australia (@yow_conf) December 4, 2016
— YOW! Australia (@yow_conf) December 2, 2016
When you get back to the office, share your experience. Nothing will impress the boss and your colleagues more than if you write or present a summary of what you learned at YOW! – both the new things as well as the strong confirmations for the good things you’re already doing as an organisation. We would love to hear about your experience too at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope that gives you an idea of what you can expect from YOW! as an attendee. Conferences aren’t transactional – the value isn’t just from sitting in an auditorium and having an expert pour knowledge into your head. You need to come in with the right preparation and attitude, and a willingness to engage with your fellow attendees, speakers, sponsors, and volunteers. Being part of the tech community is incredibly rewarding if you put in a little bit of effort!
For more information, here are some other blog posts on the topic I recommend: