I’ve been fortunate to attend my fair share of industry conferences over the past 20 years. Most times, I find the content valuable and feel energized and more creative when returning to the office. However, I’ve noticed a recent trend toward more distractions — primarily through technology and mobile devices — and attendees being less respectful to presenters and their fellow attendees.
Here are some common types of distracting attendees I’ve identified and ways you can avoid falling into the stereotypes:
1. The Question Hijacker. You know that kid from school (or maybe it was you) who sat at the front of the room and asked questions just to hear their voice? Don’t be that person. Conference speakers are selected for their experience, relevance of presentation and specific goals of the session. Let them deliver their presentation, actively listen and hold your questions until the end. Nine times out of 10, the Hijacker’s questions are eventually answered in the content of the presentation.
2. The Multitasker. I get it — we’re all very busy. But for the sake of actual learning and active listening, could you please just put away your cellphones, tablets and laptops for the 45 minutes we’re in the presentation? If you’re directing your attention to texting your husband, monitoring your Twitter account and sending work emails, chances are you’re not getting much out the presentation. I recently attended a session where a woman arrived 10 minutes late, sat next to me, then proceeded to remove her laptop, work cell phone and personal cell phone from her bag. She spent the balance of the hour sending emails, updating her social media accounts and texting with several people. If you need to work and be a social jockey, just stay home.
3. The Late Arriver. Conference planners usually provide 15 to 30 minutes between sessions so attendees can use the restroom, check emails, network and get to the next session on time. Still, there’s inevitably the 5% of people who are consistently late to the next session. A guy at a recent conference I attended arrived late to four out of five sessions. This is not only disrespectful to the presenters, it’s distracting to other attendees. If you’re late, stand in the back of the room — don’t walk to the front and find the empty seat in the middle of the row.
4. The Obsessive Notetaker. I totally understand we’re all at conferences to learn, but do you really need to write down every word from every slide? Think about how the presentation impacts your field or job role and jot down some notes relevant to that. I recently sat next to a someone who took a photo of every single slide of a 40+ page presentation — in between also jotting down notes. At the end of the hour, the presenter reminded everyone his presentation was available on the conference website along with the other sessions.
5. The Fidgeter. I don’t know if this woman had too much coffee or was just incredibly excited about the content of the presentation, but I recently sat behind her at a conference. For 45 minutes she never stopped shifting in her seat, removing and replacing items from her bag, checking her devices, playing with her hair or jangling the 17 metal bracelets on her wrists. Don’t be this person.
6. The Over-Packer. Do you know what you need as a conference session attendee? For a minimalist, maybe a pad of paper, a pen and your cell phone. Do you know what you don’t need? A 25-pound bag full of laptops, sweaters, water bottles, a boxed lunch and pillows. Most conference sessions provide just enough seats for attendees — there’s no overhead bin for your luggage.
Now that you’ve avoided annoying everyone around you, here are three tips to get the most out of your conference experience:
• Actively listen. With an increased use of mobile devices and our always-on culture, we’ve gotten away from focusing on one thing for longer than 3 minutes. For every conference I attend, I go into the sessions with the goal of actively listening and paying attention as if I were back in a college lecture.
• Capture three take-aways. Not every conference session you attend will have content directly relevant to what you do on a day-to-day basis, but you can certainly find a couple of relevant tips. I make it a point to take away three things from every presentation I can apply to my role when back in the office.
• Provide a read-out to your colleagues. Make it a habit upon your return (or even on the flight back home) to write a note with key learnings and share with your colleagues. Not everyone can attend every conference, so in the spirit of learning and professional development, share any insight you’ve taken away.
Take away a few of these tips to be the best conference attendee you can be in the coming year.