7 ways to make the most of a design event

To celebrate our first conference, Generate, here we take a look at how to get the best out of design events. Read on as we reveal a septet of pro tips that will help you learn, network and party to the max...

01. Do your homework

Check the schedule thoroughly and work out who you want to see in advance

The bigger the conference, the more important planning becomes. Much like going to a big music festival, you simply can’t see and hear everything that’s happening. Most conferences publish details of keynotes and workshops far in advance, so make sure you know where you need to be and when.

02. Expect the unexpected

Overly tight planning doesn't leave room for serendipity, and this can be one of the most valuable things about web conferences. Bumping into interesting people or being told about interesting things to see, hear or do can be a crucial part of the whole experience. So make a plan but be prepared to ditch it - because attending design conferences is all about the opportunity to...

03. Be social

Get on Lanyrd and socialise with the attendees beforehand

A common complaint about web conferences is that they’re all a bit cliquey, with the in-crowd high-fiving one another while lesser mortals are frozen out. There’s a grain of truth to that, but it’s only a grain. In most cases, it’s not that someone looks down on you; it’s just that they’ve never spoken to you.

Engaging with other attendees via Twitter, Facebook, blogs or forums can ease introductions, and sites such as Lanyrd make it easy to see who’s going to what and who they are on Twitter. If you’re keen to meet someone with a fairly high profile, communicating with them in advance is a very good idea. For Generate, the Twitter hashtag is #generateconf and the Lanyrd page is here.

04. Bring cards – lots of them

Business cards might seem old-school, but they're still essential

Business cards are essential – they’re more convenient than sharing data via smartphone apps or any other high-tech solutions – and should ideally be memorable without being annoyingly zany. Consider including a photo so that people can put a face to your name once the conference is over. If you need to design a business card, check out this article.

05. Get - and return - attention

Work on your elevator pitch. You'll meet a lot of new people, so a succinct, bullshit-free explanation of who you are and what you do is essential.

Importantly, once you’ve got someone’s attention, return it. As David Armano writes: “There is serious internet star power at all levels at SXSW in addition to it presenting all kinds of networking opportunities. This can cause [what] I call Wandering Eye Syndrome, where you’re constantly scanning the crowds for better networking candidates than the one you may currently be engaged with.” You know that guy? Don’t be him.

For more advice on how to hone your networking prowess, check out our article How to network with designers.

06. Travel light

You're not at work, so you don't need to load yourself down with gadgets. If you must, travel light: decent point-and-shoot cameras are considerably less clumsy than digital SLRs, while netbooks and MacBook Airs are more portable than traditional laptops. Or just use paper: notebooks are perfect for scribbling bullet points during conferences, and ballpoints don’t run out of batteries.

07. Don't miss the party!

The parties can often be the highlight of the event, work-wise as well as enjoyment-wise

When it comes to networking, the parties are often the main attraction of the day, so resist the temptation to slope off early, and make the most of the opportunity to chat to the attendees, the hosts and the speakers in a relaxed atmosphere.