How to get the most out of a Conference or Event

For the past couple of years I’ve made it a priority to attend events related to my industry.  I guess the seed was planted by a guy I interviewed a while back when I was running Make App Mag (Benjamin Bressinton) who mentioned how unlike other “appreneurs” he would actually attend industry events with real developers.


Initially I wasn’t really sure of the value I would gain from attending these events.  One of my main goals was to push myself outside of my comfort zone (I’m quite shy, quite an introvert).


The first event(s) I attended were local.  Ofir Leitner runs the Israel Mobile Summit and I think I went to a couple of those events even as much as 3 years ago.  I don’t remember how much I got out of those events business-wise, but I do remember that I was focused on pushing myself outside my comfort zone. I think the first conference I attended, my stated goal was not to go to lectures but rather to speak and connect with as many people as possible.


And I guess I enjoyed it.  I enjoyed pushing through my naturally shy barriers.  I liked the challenge and the fact that I managed to push through my fears.  I felt like I was growing.


These first events were local and very affordable and I’m sure that wherever you are you would probably have similar opportunities.


And I guess I kind of got addicted… I still wasn’t 100% sure about the value I was getting, but I definitely felt like it wasn’t doing anything detrimental… so I kept going.


I’ve since attended GDC (Game Developer Conference) in San Francisco (twice already) and when we decided to go into the casino niche I attended several casino-specific events (GIGSE, G2E and my business partner went to ICE in London).  I’ve been to Casual Connect when it was in Tel Aviv (local to me) and most recently Carter Thomas’s (AWESOME) Bluecloud Event in Hawaii.


The cost of these events are not insignificant, but I keep going.  I’m still an introvert, that won’t event change, but I love pushing through my comfort zone, because that’s where I feel the growth occurs.


One thing these conferences are NOT about – CONTENT.  Most of the content for these types of event you can find online.  For example, Casual Connect publish ALL their content to Youtube for free (if you’re into apps, you MUST browse through their collection!).  GDC record all their lectures and put them in the GDC Vault (paid).  Through this you can get years worth of amazing content.  Don’t get me wrong, there definitely is value in the content of these events, but you don’t need to GO to these events for the content.


What have I found most valuable?  Without a doubt, meeting like minded people, making friends and having FUN.  For me, THAT is the goal of attending these events (and I have an inkling that you might be well served by adopting that attitude).


Personally, I don’t have many (any?) entrepreneurial friends back home, apart from my biz partner who is also a good friend.


And I CRAVE that connection, expanding my circle of friends, meeting like-minded people who are on the same path.  There is some psychic connection which binds us.  And I have been sorely missing it.


So I push myself at these events to say “hi” to people I think might be interesting, to connect and potentially make friends.  I’ve made friends from these events which I deeply value and through some of these connections and conversations my business has changed and grown and only benefited.


The parts of the events that I find most beneficial are those which foster inter-personal connections.  For example, in Carter’s event we had a kind of “side / time filler” exercise which was to turn to the people sitting with you at your table and asking them what they need help with and telling them what areas you think you can potentially help them with.   This got a discussion going and opened us up.  This “side” exercise was pretty much the highlight of the event for me (at least the “structured” part of the event).


In GDC, as a tip for other game developers, they have “Round table” sessions which aren’t recorded and are a more informal sharing of knowledge.  I went to a few of those and they were all great, but there was one round table, the “Producer” round table, which absolutely smashed the ball out of the park for me.


They structured the event as a “Lean Coffee” exercise on the topic of “How to improve developer efficiency”.  Before entering the room, participants were given a number, which corresponded to a group in the room (each group was about 10 people strong).  There was some initial warm up exercise and then our group facilitator split us into pairs, where we were supposed to discuss the 1 or 2 things that we found from our experience was most impactful on improving developer efficiency.  Each pair then presented 2 of the best ideas back to the group and posted a post-it note for each idea on the “TO DO” column of a Kanban board.


After each pair was done adding their ideas to the board, each group member got 3 stickers which they could use to “vote” on the ideas on the board (you could put all 3 stickers on one idea or spread them around, up to you).  The 5 top ideas with the most votes were then moved to the “IN PROGRESS” column of the Kanban board.


The next part of the exercise was called “5 by 5”, where we were to discuss each of these ideas for 5 minutes.  At the end of each 5 minute block we did a quick thumbs up / thumbs down vote for whether to continue discussing the idea or to move on to the next topic (in my group the consensus was always to move on).


In final part of the exercise, each group decided on the one or two top ideas that they wanted to present back to the whole room.


This exercise was SO powerful.  Instead of having one guy get up and share his own subjective experience, (which has value, don’t get me wrong), we got the collective distilled experience of a group of 100 so industry leading Producers.  Guys from big companies (like Blizzard, Epic Games) and smaller companies.


And apart from the raw collective group information, this got us all talking. Instead of sitting in a lecture with a couple of hundred other anonymous people, we were forced to talk to other guys in our industry, potentially make friends and interesting new connections.  And it was FUN!


So, GO to events and conferences where you might find like-minded people.  SPEAK to people and within the events I think you should try to avoid lectures and rather go to interactive events where possible, especially if the content is available online.  Go to the PARTIES and have fun! Go with the main aim to have FUN, without expecting much else.  Through speaking to people see who you naturally gravitate and connect to. Where you feel that spark try and continue the conversation.  Sit down with these guys for coffee, go out to a party together, have dinner and maybe set a time to speak after the conference.


I hope this helps you.


In summary, GO to events. SPEAK to people. Have FUN.  And you might be surprised at the twists and turns your life and business take as a result.


I’m writing this on the plane on the (long…) way back from Hawaii.  The people I met there were so incredible… I am just abuzz with joy and a (somewhat) satiated craving to meet people who are sharing the journey together with me, which only leaves me wanting more!  People who have seen through the illusion of the matrix.  Honestly, everyone who I had a conversation with there (and I tried to speak to everyone, although didn’t quite manage)… well I actually can’t even describe the feeling. Just GO.

Author: David Janner

David Janner is a former M.D. and the Editor-in-Chief of MAKE APP Magazine. His passion is app development and app marketing. You should follow him on Twitter and Facebook and Google+ in order to get the most important industry related news, hot off the press. If you would like to arrange a 15 minute app marketing session to discuss your App Store Optimization strategy, contact him here.

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