Definitely, Maybe Agile

Ep. 101: Maximizing Learning and Networking at Conferences

August 09, 2023 Peter Maddison and Dave Sharrock
Definitely, Maybe Agile
Ep. 101: Maximizing Learning and Networking at Conferences
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In this episode of the Definitely, Maybe Agile podcast, we'll discuss how to make the most of your time at conferences. Discover the power of tribe-finding, uncover a range of learning opportunities, and unlock the potential for networking with like-minded individuals. From informal exchanges to roundtable discussions with industry experts, there's something for everyone.

This week's takeaways: 

  • Find your tribe.
  • Prepare in advance.
  • Embrace informal networking opportunities.
  • Don't be afraid to leave if it's not serving your goals.


 Join the conversation by contacting us at feedback@definitelymaybeagile.com with your thoughts, questions, or suggestions for future episodes. Don't forget to subscribe to stay updated on our latest releases. And remember, conferences can be an absolute blast and an enriching learning experience rolled into one!

Peter:

Welcome to Definitely Maybe Agile, the podcast where Peter Maddison and David Sharrock discuss the complexities of adopting new ways of working at scale. Hello and welcome to another exciting episode of Definitely, Maybe Agile with your hosts, Peter Maddison and David Sharrock. How are you today, Dave?

Dave:

Very good, so this has been an interesting week. So I mean, I'm in conference heaven right now, as it were, five-day conference. It's the biggest Agile conference on the calendar basically Agile 2023 here in sunny Orlando, Florida. So maybe it's a great topic for the day, which is how to learn at conferences? what do w e go into conferences try to do, and how to make the best use of them?

Peter:

Yeah, when it's a five day conference, I think my main goal is to get to the end of it Okay.

Dave:

So it's good to say pace setting is really important. Yes, pace yourself, not have a pace setter running faster than you in front of you. That's not the intention.

Peter:

That's not the intention at all. It's an interesting topic for sure. I mean, where would you like to start?

Dave:

Well, I think it's the. It's a sort of informal and informal session. That's there, right? So there's the formal, like schedule of talks, workshops, whatever they they might be, and then the informal learning which is all the bits around it. And I think for anybody who's been to a few conferences, the informal is is so powerful. But when you're going early on in your career and building up that knowledge, it's often the formal which is the reason they were at these conferences.

Peter:

Yeah, it's almost like you. You sell it to the people who are paying based on the formal stuff, but it's the informal that you go for. I know that I've been to a lot of conferences over my career and I've even been to conferences where I haven't bothered buying the conference ticket. I just bought the flight and just hung out with all the people for the informal conferences informal part of it just to have the conversations.

Dave:

Yeah, I think that that one is it. So, if we just start on that informal side, the way I always think about it and it's certainly what I find here at the major conferences, so this one in the agile space is really the scrum gatherings and the agile 2023s, 2020, xs, and then in, and then the local community events and there's huge conferences dotted all across Europe, asia, north America, which are regional in scope, which I'm not going to sort of list out, but they're all on the informal side that I think the thing first and foremost is to find your tribe. The people that you know energize you. When I think of the tribe, with a conversation there, it's not about learning so much as energy. It's about realizing people are out there that think like you, that are seeing the same things, that respect and share, that respect backwards and forwards as a real connection. So find your tribe is that first piece, because the tribe is what you're trying to connect with when you're taking a flight to a location, without necessarily attending the conference proper.

Peter:

Yeah, for sure. And I mean the tribes that, nominally, you and I belong to are a little different in that you've got the there's the agile tribe over here and the DevOps tribe over here and we were talking about this the other day. Right, that from an agile perspective, devops is like a branch of agile. But from a DevOps perspective, we don't even mention agile. And if you go to a DevOps conference, there are no agile people there. Well, there are, but that's not normally how they present themselves. It's a very different mindset, but it isn't under the covers, but there is a Sorry just to.

Dave:

So this is Tribes aren't distinct, right? So? And I know you've been to our conferences and I know I've been to DevOps conferences and the tribes overlap considerably. There are people who are heavily in both tribes and they're the same people in both tribes, right? So it isn't that it's an us and them. It's not like sports teams fans where you can't mix and match. It's quite the opposite. It's actually there's a lot of overlapping tribes. So maybe it's not a single tribe, maybe it's multiple ones, and you'll often find similar faces in different tribes.

Peter:

Yeah, I think it's at an individual level. I think that is 100% true. I think maybe at the present, the way it's presented sometimes doesn't look that way though.

Dave:

There is always that. Yeah, so on the informal side, that finding your tribe I think is super important. That's the conversations in the corridor, it's the actually and later on in the evening, of course, and it's the discussions in between sessions or in parallel to those. And finding that is it all of a sudden gives you a home base from which to go out and talk to other tribes and other groups within the same conference space. I think that's a hugely important one. But if we move over to the sort of formal side as well, what do you look for in the learning spaces? How to get things out of formal schedulers of sessions?

Peter:

It really does depend on the type of conference it is, I find, in terms of. So I tend to go and look for the things that are going to interest me, because if I'm turning up to the formal side of it, I'm looking for what are the sessions that are going to most likely communicate the information I'm looking for? I personally often go looking for things like roundtables or smaller groups where a particular topic is going to get discussed that I'm interested in, so that you can really dig into it, especially with experts who know more about that particular topic and I can learn from them and I can bounce ideas around and share experiences. That I find very valuable as a structured way of getting learning from conferences, and I've seen that in all the sorts of different conferences I've been to where you have those opportunities.

Dave:

Yeah. So what I was going to say is that I think, whether or not it's a formal sessions or it's an open space or an unconference, where the agenda gets put together on the day, I always find reading through the sessions to understand what are the topics of interest is incredibly useful, just to know what is the current state of thinking in the space that you're in. Right, that's one of the first things. So, taking the time not just rolling up and trying to get into a session, but taking the time to figure out what the topics are, which ones are of interest, and so on. More and more nowadays is get there early. So a lot of the sessions fill out, especially the really popular ones. So get in there early is a kind of a tip, and I'm saying that having walked up to a number of sessions in this conference where the session is full scientists on the door, which is fantastic, but of course, if you're trying to learn from that, it helps to be in the room.

Dave:

I also really liked what you were saying. Just as we were setting this conversational, which is the open space format, has a rule called the law of two people on the law of personal mobility. Right, get up and move around and, in particular, if you're in a session and it's not what you thought it would be, you do not have to stay till the end of the session. It is not. I think that as a speaker, I've spoken a number of times and I take that as feedback. If people get up and leave, it's helpful to the speaker. It tells them something about how they're presenting the topic, how they're describing the work. So don't be shy of saying this isn't what I was expecting and then politely leaving. We don't make a song and dance about it.

Peter:

No rotten tomatoes.

Dave:

No, leave them stacked by the door.

Peter:

Yeah, always look for the stack by the door.

Dave:

Yeah, but just don't feel the need to stay there. If it's not working, then get up and go somewhere else, right?

Peter:

Yeah, I completely agree. And putting the agendas together, I mean I have a habit of going through and finding all those things that look interesting to me and then finding out what tracks they're following and saying, hey, did I just follow one single track through the whole round?

Dave:

But it's funny you say that because I was just thinking. Some of the best experiences I've had at conferences was park yourself in one track and just sit there and really absorb all of the information that's coming through. So that's a great tactic. It's not clear where you want to spend it.

Peter:

Yeah, and I have had, like, some of the non roundtable. I didn't want to make it sound necessary that only ever go to roundtables. I mean, it's just that those will be the first places I target. They're the ones that I want to make sure that I get into. But then the finding, as you say, the sessions that you think are going to be the most valuable to you, and making sure you get there early so you definitely get a seat, and those are definitely the places that you want to be. And some of these conferences can just be absolutely insane, like the big tech conferences, like AWS and places like that, where I don't know what numbers they're up to now, but it's probably well north of 50,000. I've not looked recently, but reinvent is insane. It's so many people, so there's a lot of that to do as well. Like, how are you going to get around to all of this as well? Make sure you get the most out of it.

Dave:

Absolutely. Yeah, I think one of the other things and maybe this is the last thing that I would think about is ask a question. So and this is I mean you don't have to ask the question, but think of the question that you would ask based on the topic and the reason. I say that is not just being a speaker it's always nice to have questions coming in but it's more. It allows you to process the information and to understand how much you might get more out of it, Right? So it is part of that processing piece that comes through.

Peter:

Yeah, yeah, for sure, whenever I'm speaking it it. I agree. Being able to ask the questions is good and I do appreciate it as a speaker when people do ask questions, even when the difficult ones I might not know the answer to those ones are the best, but they're. But. Yeah, I know that it's good. It does help with processing, thinking through, like, well, what else would I ask, where, where could I go from here? Like, what else would I want to know that wasn't covered? Or if there are questions you have prior but, you're coming in with.

Peter:

So what else might we add?

Dave:

You know what many of the conferences have a lot of what I think of as ancillary services around the side. So, whether it's you know, the space with books or the sponsors booths and the conversations that you can have there. I think in a lot of the conferences there's often an expert lounge of some sort, whether it's a coaching clinic or technical experts, and again, it's actually, you know, be curious, getting around but also have the conversations. Just this is, I mean it's it's I find conferences incredibly draining because of those conversations, because you continually having conversations.

Peter:

Yeah, yeah, for sure I've. I've also had fun volunteering at conferences too. That's like working in speaker support and things like this, even at same conferences that I've spoken at, which can be quite fun.

Dave:

No, I think that's a huge. You know, a new to the conference scene is getting on the volunteering experience on the conference. Get in on the volunteer, get involved.

Peter:

Yeah, you realize how much it takes to organize these things. It's a lot of work, Absolutely. So if we were to sum this up into like some like theoretical points, what sort of things would you want the audience to take away?

Dave:

Let's do a couple of things find your tribe, and it might be more than one, definitely preparation in terms of looking through the session and thinking about what information you want to get out of it. I really liked what you said as we got going, which is the get up and leave. I think sometimes we get trapped into the. Maybe it's the British and the Canadian bit in me which says, oh, I can't leave, it would be rude or anything. But I think it's empowering to know that you can say this isn't for me and kind of get out and move around and then, yeah, those would be the three things I'd sort of take away.

Peter:

I think I think the only thing I'd add to that around the like the informal piece of it. I think how important that informal part of the conference is, because that part of where you'll meet people and talk to people, as you say, find your tribe, but also be taking time in your schedule to go and around the booth or the other auxiliary services and talk to people there and find out what they're up to, just to see what you can learn, because that, I think, is where I've always had great conversations and got a lot of value from that. Like a lean coffee at agile conferences is another good one to look out for. It's quite a common one that I see that those types of conferences Absolutely yeah. So if anybody would like us like to send us some feedback, they can at feedback at definitelymaybeagilecom, and don't forget to hit subscribe and look forward to next time Always a pleasure, thanks again.

Peter:

Please, you've been listening to Definitely Maybe Agile, the podcast where your hosts, Peter Maddison and David Sharrock, focus on the art and science of digital, agile and DevOps at scale.

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