Den Heinemeier Hansson
 
Photo by _heycarsten

Attending a great tech conference is a singularly motivating experience. If you have been to a few conferences you realize the motivation wanes alarmingly fast once you sit down in that old office chair and get back to work. While disturbing, this is a natural experience. No matter how swell your work environment, it is very difficult to recapture that “all things are possible with code” vibe the conference provided. Better to admit this and deal with it.

The most difficult conference lightning for me to bottle is the motivation for self improvement. I walk away from a conference wanting nebulous things like “build a software as a service site”, “build a mobile application” or “contribute more to open source.” I honestly get depressed when time and again I fail to execute on these goals. My hyper-motivated attitude sets me up for failure.

First, get the most out of attending the conference

Working the conference floor has been discussed frequently. I’m just going to bullet point these things and get to the meat.

  • Be prepared to talk about yourself
  • Be prepared to talk about a variety of other people and companies
  • Be prepared to be uncomfortable
  • If you are an introvert, head to a conference room and strike up a conversation with someone sitting alone. Avoid people making love to their laptops.
  • Be prepared to ask someone to lunch
  • Take notes, like with pen and paper. Put down the laptop from time to time.

Things I like to note down:

  • Information pulled directly from the talk
  • Unrelated ideas that pop into my head during the talk
  • Audience reactions to the talk
  • Good and bad aspects of the presentation and presenter
  • Information about people I meet

Capture conference motivation by reliving it

A conference wears you out, particularly if it has very good, or very bad, parties. When you get home, get some sleep, eliminate the pile of emails, and then get some more sleep. Then sit down and process the information you gathered and emotions you experienced during the conference. Plan to do this within a few days of returning from the conference, or you simply will not do it. After a week, you probably will not have much ingrained recollection of the event save for a general label of “it was great” or “it was OK”. (Note: The less great the conference, the more quickly you will complete this process.)

The simplest bits to capture from a conference are to-do items like books to read, software to trial, etc. Just get them in your to-do listing app of choice. Put them near the top as they are currently as relevant as they will ever be.

Follow up with folks you met. Don’t be a networking whore; get in touch with people you truly connected with. Follow those people you met in passing on Twitter, if you must.

Share your thoughts about the conference. Consider not only informational aspects of the event, but also the emotion of both you and the audience. Maybe this is a blog post, though I prefer to share the info with colleagues or journal it for my own benefit. My thoughts are usually too personal and scattered for an interesting blog post.

Let your experience generate something useful to share with others. For me this is typically when I put together a blog post. I might write about a single aspect of the conference itself, or more likely I’ll write on a subject I was motivated to research. You may wish to pay it forward by working on an OSS project or putting together a presentation for your local users group. It is entirely possible your reflections will generate multiple projects with which you can put your motivation into action.

Rather than set an impractical dream as a goal, be motivated by bringing the things that opened your eyes to others. Through blog posts, software contributions and local presentations you will explore your own ability to learn and you may just inspire the next guy. And everyone’s dream will become a little more possible.

Jul 14, 2009 · Subscribe · Archive · Projects · Twitter · GitHub · Flickr