Making the most of conference attendance

I attend a lot of testing conferences (and present at a few too), most recently the massive STARWest held at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. I’ve been regularly attending such conferences for about ten years now and have noticed some big changes in the behaviour of people during these events.

Back in the day, most conferences dished out printed copies of the presentation slides and audience members generally seemed to follow along in the hard copy, making notes as the presentation unfolded. It was rare to see anyone checking emails on a laptop or phone during talks. The level of engagement with the speaker generally seemed quite high.

Fast forward ten years and it’s a very different story. Thankfully, most conferences no longer feel the need to demolish a forest to print out the slides for everyone in attendance. However, I have noticed a dramatic decrease in note taking during talks (whether that be on paper or virtually) and a dramatic increase in electronic distractions (such as checking email, internet surfing, and tweeting). The level of engagement with the presentation content seems much lower (to me) than it used to be.

I’m probably old school in that I like to take notes – on paper – during every presentation I attend, not only to give me a reference for what was of interest to me during the talk, but also to practice the key testing skill of note taking. Taking good notes is an under-rated element of the testing toolbox and so important for those practicing session-based exploratory testing.

Given that conference speakers put huge effort into preparing & giving their talks and employers spend large amounts of money for their employees to attend a conference, I’d encourage conference attendees to make every effort to be “in the moment” for each talk, take some notes, and then catch up on those important emails in the many breaks on offer. (Employers, please give your conference attendees the opportunity to engage more by letting them know that those “urgent” emails can probably wait till the end of each talk before getting a response.)

Conferences are a great opportunity to learn, network and share experiences. Remember how fortunate you are to be able to attend them and engage deeply while you have the chance.

(And, yes, I will blog about my experiences of attending and presenting at STARWest separately.)

3 thoughts on “Making the most of conference attendance

  1. Amanda Shankle-Knowlton

    An engaged crowd also makes for a better presentation, at least for me. Eye contact, facial expressions, and nods are good fuel that ends up getting poured right back into informing, entertaining, or connecting with the audience. If my audience is chatting among themselves or entranced with their phones, it’s a drain on my confidence.

  2. Kevin Pyles (@pyleskevin)

    Lee, since I am a tester may I give an opposing view? 🙂 Before I do that though, I agree with you that there are many distractions with phones, tablets, computers, etc. Too many people are missing out on great learning opportunities by attending a class and yet not being present.
    My alternate view is that as a mobile device user for over 16 years now (yep I was so good at graffiti on the Palm Vx that I took notes on it too) sometimes, we are stereotyped as not paying attention in conferences because we are on our “devices” when in reality they are our note taking tools. I attended your presentation. It was a good presentation where I took many notes. I even took a couple of pictures, which unfortunately due to lighting didn’t help much. 😦 I also know that even though I was on the back row we were whispering back and forth about your ideas and how we could implement them in our QA Community. Sorry, for the distractions, but thank you for the presentation and ideas!

    1. therockertester Post author

      Thanks for taking the time to comment on my blog post, Kevin, and I’m pleased to hear that you attended my talk and found it useful. It’s great to hear that you were discussing ways to implement some of my ideas (and I couldn’t really see the back rows so your whispers didn’t worry me!).

      I appreciate that some people choose to take notes on electronic devices and that’s great, whatever works for the individual. But I do see so many in audiences replying to emails, tweeting every slide, etc. and that seems like a wasted opportunity to really engage with the presentation and potentially learn something new. As I said in my post, it would be good if employers also gave some room for the people they send along to conferences to enjoy the experience without always being “on call” to answer emails.

      The presentation slides are available from the STARWest website for registered attendees (or ping me for a copy of my slides) and feel free to follow up with me if you want any help with implementing ideas resulting from my talk.


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