When in full-on conference mode I find it’s always best to be as actually engaged with real people as much as possible. One of the reasons to attend conferences is to spend time with colleagues. It’s OK to not tweet every great thing your lunch companions say.
That said, there are some ways to use technology to help get the most out of conferences and other events.
Mindmap on the iPad
I take notes in mindmap format. You might have done these in school as concept maps. Basically, you write a word, circle it, and then draw a line connecting it to other words. The end result is a list of all important concepts in a presentation and how they relate to each other.
To do this at a conference I use iThoughts HD on my iPad. It isn’t the prettiest output, but it’s very fast as a note-taking app, which is what I want in a mindmap tool.
Typically, I just blast everything onto a page with very minimal editing. Then as the work goes on I start rearranging the branches into whatever makes the most sense.
Later, I go in when I have some time to stretch out. At this session I’ll get more of the connections and perhaps refine the output a bit. My mindmap on the video about game-maker Mojang would be a decent example of a mindmap that got this level of treatment. My Kawasaki or Mitch Joel mindmaps are examples that didn’t get that treatment.
Either way you end up with a version of the session that helps you and others understand what you thought was the most important thing.
I also create a branch right away called "secret thoughts" or something like that. Then when I want to publish a mindmap I make a copy but delete the "secret thoughts" branch. Makes it easier for me to share quickly.
Low-tech tip: You don’t need an iPad for this note-taking method. You can use pen and paper and it works great.
Find the party with foursquare
A lot has changed about foursquare since I first wrote about it a few years back. But the core usefulness remains the same.
Forget worrying about mayors and badges. Instead focus on connecting with your friends. I’ve seen people become much more chatty and less broadcast-y on foursquare since features to comment on check-ins have been introduced.
When you check in to a location, leave a description, maybe how long you plan to stay in case others want to join you. A picture is also an easy way to make your check-in more useful to your connections.
If you approach foursquare as a broadcast tool, you probably won’t get much from it. But if you leave tips and photos or comment on other people’s check-ins, then you can help make existing relationships stronger.
At the conference, use foursquare to:
- Figure out where the party is
- Use the explore tab to find places to nearby to eat
- Use the venue tips to figure out what is good at a restaurant you’ve never visited before.
There’s always someone who feels it is their job to be the person who does a live Twitter broadcast of an event. Don’t be that person (take your notes with iThoughts HD in mindmap format instead).
But definitely follow that person. That way, if something good is going on at a different session, then you won’t miss it.
If there are are several of these live tweeters, all the better. Use the Twitter list feature to make a list containing the people who tend to make the best commentary of the event. Then you’ll have your own little conference editorial board Twitter feed.
Also, it’s probably worthwhile to make a Twitter search containing the conference hashtag. This is a good way to aggregate the general conference chatter into one place.
Lists and Twitter searches are available in all of the mobile Twitter clients, so you’ll be able to carry the conference around with you in your pocket.
Bonus tip: Make a friend by scanning the conference hashtag and seeing if someone has a question for the session you are at. Sometimes people who aren’t at the show would like to know the answer to something. Be their voice and when the floor opens for Q-and-A step up to the mic and ask their question for them.
Turn off the tech
Remember, you might not get the chance to hang out and chat with the people you meet at the conference for awhile. Put down your smartphone for a bit. Put it facedown on the table if you can’t put it in your pocket. Don’t let the distractions of notifications and beeps and rings replace the opportunity you have to make a real connection, have an in-depth conversation, and really get to know someone and think new thoughts together.