Four Pointers for First Time Conference Goers

This past fall I attended the annual Association Typographique Internationale (AtypI) conference held this year in Warsaw. AtypI explores type design, typography, and the many ways we interact with text. Having never attended a conference before, I had some trouble navigating an event of this scale. As I forced myself to interact with others, I quickly gleaned pointers on how to handle this marathon. By the end of the conference, I was fulfilled with a relit passion for my work.

The pointers I mentioned before are a few things I wish I had known before I arrived in Warsaw. They may have helped me swallow my fears and enjoy myself sooner. In sharing these tips, I hope to ease the anxiety, fears, and nerves of others, so they too can learn and grow at events like AtypI.

  1. Going it alone is just as fun as going with friends. In fact, it's a lot more fun. I walked away with a unique adventure. Being there solo, I felt compelled to keep an open mind and go with the flow. I welcomed conversations from strangers, I chatted with the person next to me at the charging station, and jumped at dinner invitations from speakers I approached. Attending an event with friends doesn't always take an individual out of their element. Being alone allowed me to recognize the many opportunities I had to meet new folks.

  2. Conferences are a great place to re-learn how to make friends. Who of us remembers how to make a friend? It's a skill that dies as you get older. Conferences are filled with other people who share an interest and who have common ground. In the case of AtypI, everyone loved type. We loved to look at it. We loved to talk about it. We couldn't wait to learn more. Fellow nerds were all around me, and it felt great. Everyone was welcoming and happy to engage in a conversation with me. They knew that if I was attending this conference, then I, too, must be a fellow typophile. A few conference goers let me in on a little secret: the entire three day event is a backdrop for a group of nerds to hang out. Chatting up strangers is a necessary part of the experience. So don't be shy, go say hi.

  3. Go to the after events! I struggled approaching people at the conference itself. Especially on the first day. Afterall, I am an interface designer, not a type designer. Also, everyone there appeared to know each other and were conducting business together. I found the after events to be so much more casual. A place where the nerds let their hair down. Striking up conversation with a speaker while we were both waiting for our drinks was easy for me. We were away from the formal atmosphere of the conference space, and it seemed that everyone was more relaxed. I was more relaxed. The after events are a fun place to warm up to talking to your fellow nerd.

  4. Don't burn yourself out. AtypI was a marathon- one day of workshops, one day of forums, three days of talks and events, and a museum tour. That's a lot of knowledge to absorb. I have been out of the classroom for a few years, so sitting through several talks was not an easy thing. At some point, I found myself dozing off! Later, I was out at dinner with some folks I met at the conference. One of them assured me that the goal was not to attend every talk. So, I reviewed the schedule and made sure to get to the talks that interested me or aligned with the work that I was doing. I spent the rest of the time exploring the city of Warsaw. It kept my mind fresh and cleared. Burning out is easy. To avoid it, attend events that align with your interests. Don't stress about the rest.

TL;DR

  1. Going alone means more opportunities to meet new people.
  2. Everyone there is also a nerd, and welcome nerdy discussions with you.
  3. After events are a casual, fun place, where it's even easier to meet new people.
  4. Avoid burning the candle at both ends. Create a personal, balanced schedule.