How to Make the Most of Your Conference Ticket

By David Knight |

“Pivots don’t kill startups, technology conferences do.” So tweeted Gidsy co-founder Edial Dekker on Monday as Berlin Web Week entered its second week of long, hard conference slog. Edial is an entrepreneur who usually speaks a lot of sense – see his comments on startups working crazy hours – and this is no exception.

This time of year is crazy for founders, journalists, investors and everyone involved in the startup scene. The sheer amount of conferences and events can be overwhelming, and so it’s vital that you plan carefully to make the most out of your time.

Experiencing the mammoth re:publica conference last week, it occurred to me that it can be difficult to judge how to approach these events, especially for newbies. There is always the chance that you could waste your time by trying to do too much.

For those of you who haven’t been to STATION-Berlin, host to both re:publica and NEXT which starts on Tuesday, it’s typical of the German capital’s conference venues – a big, open former industrial space which can happily house thousands of people. With re:publica offering a choice of eight stages and a myriad of talks, in both English and German, conference goers could happily spend the entire day listening and learning.

But it’s easy to become a little overwhelmed by such a wide range of offerings. You should study the schedule carefully and pick out the talks which interest you most, leaving yourself enough time to wander around, grab a bite to eat and meet new people.

That isn’t to say, of course, that you ignore everything else – pop your head into some of the other stages as you walk around and you might find something genuinely interesting that you had overlooked.

Take a Few Notes

So try and soak up as much as possible. Obviously, as a journalist, I have to take extensive notes and leave a decent amount of time to write up stories as I go along while they are still fresh in the mind; most of you won’t need to record the talks you attend in such detail. But taking a few notes as you go is a great way to make the important points stick in your mind, otherwise you might well end up remembering nothing except whatever it was you saw last (especially if, like me, your memory resembles a sieve).

I bumped into Gernot Poetsch last week, a veteran of these conferences, and he told me he wasn’t planning on going to many talks, if any at all. For him, it was all about meeting and connecting with people.

He did have one piece of advice, however: Don’t bother going to a talk unless it’s on a subject you don’t know anything about.

Essentially, different people will have different aims – I want to cover the most interesting and relevant talks, Gernot wants to connect with people, others may spend the entire day at one stage which covers their specific interests. The important thing is to know ahead of time what your angle of attack is going to be. Study the schedule, look at the venue map, consider when you might meet up with people you already know and think about how best to network with those you don’t – evening networking events are vital.

Before you even get that far, however, you need to consider which events you actually want to attend in the first place – you’re certainly spoilt for choice nowadays.

Of course, many of you reading this may be thinking, ‘well of course, this is all common sense,’ but try and remember how confusing and daunting major conferences can be when you’re not used to them!

These are just a few thoughts that occurred to me during re:publica – you should also read this, which covers some of the same ground and is a useful read. I’ll be at NEXT over the coming two days, hopefully practicing what I’ve been preaching…