I had a great time on the conference trail this year! Here were my big social takeaways:
Avoid forming cliques.
I know how it is: you’re friends on Twitter, you only see each other at conferences, and you want to catch up. Or maybe you’re new to speaking, and you’re enthralled by seeing one of your idols in person for the first time. I get that! But you’re at the conference for the attendees, not so you can form a speakers-only club. Cliques weren’t cool in high school, and they aren’t cool at conferences, either.
However, if you’re nervous about being around so many people and you want to stick close to someone you feel secure with, you can arrange for them to be your “home base” that you return to after venturing forth to check out other groups of people.
I try to split my time evenly between mingling with different speakers, both old and new, and meeting and speaking with attendees. Try sitting at a table of faces your don’t know at lunch or attending a talk you didn’t think would be that interesting. Drag that neat person you just met with you to the bar party. You might be surprised by all the new things you’ll discover!
Don’t hide in your room.
Once again, you’re here for the attendees. They love being able to come up to you and ask questions (especially after you speak). I understand that often you have to attend to other matters at these conferences. I had to make a talk for CSS Conf EU, and my time tables were so tight that I had to spend part of Blend Conf in my room, diligently outlining a slide deck. That was my fault for overbooking. I missed out on a lot of great talks and cool people because of it. If you find you have to spend time in your room repeatedly, reevaluate how you’re organizing your obligations. You’re probably overbooking and shortchanging yourself--as well as the conference.
If you have to duck out on on a speaking engagement, as I had to for Sass Conf, the earlier you let the organizers know, the more time they have to rearrange the schedule and find someone to fill your spot. Let everyone know so anyone who might have been coming just to see you has time to rearrange their plans. It’s polite.