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.)