There you are, sitting by yourself with a stale poppy seed bagel and kid-sized cup of conference coffee. The first presenter is only five minutes into their presentation, and they’re already reading from their slides.
We’ve all been there–trapped at a bad conference. Maybe it looked good on paper, or maybe someone you respect recommended it to you. But you’re there, and your work is back at the office where it will stay until you can escape.
It didn’t have to be this way.
Yes, conferences can stink. But the good ones–the really good ones–can shift the trajectory of your business and personal growth. You just have to know where to look and how to get the most out of the experience.
Below are some of the best startup conferences this month and how you can participate (even if you’re not attending). At the end of the article, I’ve included some strategies for how to get the most out of any event you decide to invest in.
Based out of Portland, Oregon, TechFestNW is the little sister conference to MusicFestNW. Despite being a fledgeling conference, only in its second year, TechFestNW is quickly becoming a hot conference to watch. Featuring great speakers, compelling topics, and bumping after parties, the schedule at TechFestNW can compete with anyone in the nation. What really sets this conference apart, however, is their last day.
The most unique aspect of the TechFest lineup is also the most attractive. On their final day, they are hosting the “PDXDrones Challenge.” First, at 11, a team of experts will take a hodge-podge of disparate parts and put together a fully functional, completely flyable drone in under an hour. At 1, they’ll be bringing PDX’s best drone pilots together in the “drone cage” to battle head to head in an obstacle course.
If you’re interested in robotics, startups, or just want to party with the north west’s best and brightest, you have to make it to TechFestNW 2013, September 6-8.
Co-Founder of Fast Company, Editorial Director of the Harvard Business Review, and author of Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self, Webber’s wealth of knowledge is invaluable to business leaders everywhere. He will be giving the Saturday evening keynote entitled “Creating the Next Version of Portland.”
This keynote is a very apt topic for Webber. While many recognize his work in the business world, few realize that he has been extremely active politically at the local, state, and national level, fighting for Portland every step of the way. His passion and vision for the city will make this a must-see keynote for all Oregonians in attendance.
As the founder and CEO of imgur.com, Schaaf’s name and reputation are easily recognizable to many in the tech world. As the founder of one of the largest (and certainly the easiest) image sharing services in the world, he brings an heir of techie-ism to TechFestNW, but his biggest contribution to the festival comes in his knowledge of the startup space.
Giving the Sunday keynote address, “Pros and Cons of Bootstrapping: Imgur’s Experience,” Schaaf will be touching on his experience starting a company from his dorm room. As an organization who takes bootstrapping seriously, this talk stood out to us. While there is a sexy side to the tech end of Imgur, the less sexy side will prove to be far more beneficial for budding northwest entrepreneurs looking to learn from the conference. If you’re starting a business, you’re going to want to take good notes during this keynote.
I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that Saul Colt is by far the most interesting speaker in the TechFestNW lineup. He was recently named as one of the iMEDIA 25: Internet Marketing Leaders & Innovators and is the “Head of Magic” at SAUL! The Idea Integration Company. He has an extensive bio, featuring many different endeavors, but today he finds himself specializing in Social Media, Customer Service, Community Building and Word of Mouth Marketing.
Colt will be featured during the Saturday morning speaking sessions, giving a talk entitled “Insights from the Smartest Man in the World.” While I can’t attest to that claim, I can definitively say that his presentation is bound to be one of the most entertaining of the conference and a must see for those interested in online influence and marketing.
Social Media Buzz
First and foremost, whether you can attend or not, this is a great list to follow.
— James C. Smith (@JamesC_Smith) August 30, 2013
— Mobility PR (@MoPR) August 28, 2013
— Anne Mangan (@pdcannem) August 28, 2013
— Cecilia Doan (@CCdoan) August 28, 2013
The Disrupt conference is put on by TechCrunch and is the leading conference in the world for tech startups. This year’s DisruptSF Conference is being held from September 7th to the 11th and features the staples that made Disrupt famous. From an all night hackathon to the Startup Battlefield, where tech entrepreneurs from all over the world will compete for the Disrupt Cup, this event is sure to be a great experience for everyone in attendance.
As the CEO of LinkedIn, Weiner is responsible for much of the growth that the professional network has experienced over the last five years. In addition to LinkedIn, Jeff serves on the board of directors for Intuit Inc., DonorsChoose.org and Malaria No More. Jeff will be doing a fireside chat at noon on Monday which will be extremely beneficial for anyone looking to learn about leadership and growth.
Marc Benioff is the founder and CEO of Salesforce.com and is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of cloud computing. From groundbreaking idea to publicly traded company, Salesforce has become one of the most popular and influential companies in B2B software. Benioff’s knowledge, vision, and influence are invaluable, and his fireside chat at Disrupt will be one of the most informative presentations given all month.
He will be doing a fireside on Tuesday at 10:45. You won’t want to miss it.
Costolo has been the CEO of Twitter since 2010 and has been instrumental in the network’s growth. Before Twitter, Costolo was co-founder and CEO of FeedBurner, a digital content syndication platform that was acquired by Google in 2007.
He will be giving a presentation Monday at 12:20, immediately following the fireside chat with Jeff Weiner, entitled “How To Lead,” Making the noon hour on Monday an irresistable time slot for attendees.
Social Media Buzz
As a leading conference in the tech space, there is bound to be a ton of activity on Twitter surrounding this year’s event. Here’s some of the activity we’ve seen for #DisruptSF.
— Artsy Photos (@artsyphotos) August 30, 2013
— John Tyler Balicki (@JohnyBreaux) August 29, 2013
— Kamrin Klauschie (@kamrinklauschie) August 28, 2013
— satishchavan (@satishchavan) August 26, 2013
— Pharmly (@Pharmly) August 26, 2013
Named best Convention in America by the American Business Awards, the Connections conference put on by ExactTarget is not one to miss. Located in Indianapolis, Indiana, Connections is one of the largest gatherings of marketers in the world. This conference focuses on the intersection of marketing and technology, a niche that Indianapolis has cornered extremely well.
In addition to the top-shelf keynotes, “Cloud Crawl,” ExactTarget Academy, and music festival at Lucas Oil Stadium (home of the 2012 Super Bowl), a new feature of this year will be the M-TECH Conference happening in conjunction with the final day of Connections. This conference, put on by Techpoint for marketing technology users, buyers, producers and investors, will backup the growing consensus that Indianapolis, with innovators like Exact Target, iGoDigital, Tinderbox, Angie’s List and more, is the marketing tech capital of the world.
Tuesday’s 2:30 keynote is brought to you by Jim Collins, author of New York Times bestsellers Good to Great and Built to Last. His presentations are built to challenge with a practical blueprint for sustaining enduring growth and sustained superior performance. Collins has a passion for understanding and advising how companies grow, perform, and become great.
As someone who has served as a teacher to senior executives and CEOs at over a hundred corporations, Collins’ keynote definitely ranks as one of the best talks for executives of any company to see this month.
Isaacson previously served as Chairman and CEO of CNN and Editor of TIME magazine. Additionally, he has authored five biographies including Steve Jobs. Today, Isaacson is the President and CEO of Aspen Institute, an educational and policy studies organization.
As one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2012, Walter Isaacson is sure to generate a lot of buzz. His keynote on Tuesday at 4:45 is a must hit for anyone attending the conference.
Thursday’s keynote speaker needs no introduction, but that’s never stopped us before. Condoleeza Rice is known as one of the most knowledgeable women in the world in the realm of politics and foreign relations. Rice served as the 66th United States Secretary of State (2005-2009) and National Security Advisor (2001-2005).
Today, Rice is the Denning Professor in Global Business and the Economy at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University and is a founding partner of RiceHandleyGates LLC., an international strategic consulting firm. Her keynote address at noon on Thursday is the headlining event of this year’s Connections conference and a great way to close an event.
Social Media Buzz
As the “Marketing Tech Capital of the World,” Indianapolis will be abuzz with social content for Connections. Here’s some of the early buzz surrounding #ET13
— DEG (@DEGdigital) August 31, 2013
— Amanda Berkey (@amandaberkey) August 30, 2013
— Tim Kopp (@tbkopp) August 29, 2013
— Kristina Huffman (@krudz) August 29, 2013
— Orr Fellowship (@OrrFellowship) August 28, 2013
— Orr Fellowship (@OrrFellowship) August 28, 2013
Tech Conference Tips and Tricks
As you lace up for these or other conferences, take it a step further and learn the basic moves of the the startup event dance:
- Know what you want to get out of attending an event. Hell, I’ll take it a step further and say that you should go Tony Robbins on it and write your goals down ahead of time.
- Find the people who can help get your business where you want it to be. Twitter is great for this and you should use lists and hashtags to organize your connecting. Pair up this effort with another conference tools like an attendee directory or Lanyrd and you’ll start to feel like a conference Jedi. Just make sure you put others first. Figure out what makes them tick, what they do, and how you might be able to help.
- Schedule your time. If you already know people who are going to be there, set up a meeting in advance. Find the can’t-miss sessions and lock them in on your calendar. But don’t over schedule yourself. Give yourself room to absorb what’s going on and to allow serendipity to run its course.
- Get out there and keep getting better. Getting the most value from a conference takes some attention to detail, but you’ll improve with practice. So don’t just stand there, bust a move.