I was asked at Agile Coach Camp in DC (prior to Agile2015) if I had any “runner up” items for my Top 10 list of insights for maximizing your conference experience. It turns out I did, so for fun here they are (you can let me know if any of these should have been on the original list):
What to do if you forgot your business cards (or run out or want to save them or a tree)
I predict that not too long after Paul Hammond welcomes everyone to Agile2015, he will probably remind everyone to “Wear your badges” (necessary for security & access control) – this is good as snapping a quick badge photo is a quick way to capture the name of someone that you’d like to follow up with – once you have a badge photo, you can look your new colleague on LinkedIn or Twitter. Think of all the trees you can help save!
Please Please Please take a moment to leave session feedback
One of the greatest value that presenters (either on the formal program or in OpenJam) receive from participation and sharing ideas at the conference is feedback to help them improve their future sessions. While you can give direct feedback to the presenters (some may include a feedback door or wall in their session and ask for input), you’ll also have an option to leave feedback for any session you attend via the online conference schedule (use your mobile device or access via the web). In advance, all of the presenters will thank you, as it helps them improve.
Thank (maybe even hug) all the volunteers you see (and don’t see too)
The agile conference is made possible largely by the efforts of volunteers who are there to assist presenters and handle all of the behind the scenes logistical tasks. The volunteers are easy to find (usually wearing a nice bright colored T-shirt – at the time of writing, I don’t what the color is this year) and they will answer questions you may have. Without volunteers donating their time to support the planning and execution of the conference, the event would not be feasible without significant additional cost. Also ask around if anyone you meet was a “Submission Coach” or “Track Reviewer” – these are people that donated their time in late 2014 thru early 2015 to help presenters improve their sessions, and then gave input to help select quality sessions to create the conference program – please thank all of these people for their efforts!
Be transparent about your needs
I’ll forgo the various metaphors between the complexity of planning, building, integrating and releasing a conference and running an agile release train (trust me they exist), but executing a 5-day conference with 200+ sessions is a complex task and some things are bound to go wrong – sessions run out of handouts, rooms become over crowded, etc. Here’s a tip, if you end up missing a handout or can’t make it into a crowded session, connect with the presenter (Twitter works best for most) and more than likely they can accommodate your need – handouts can be sent electronically and each year, I know there are always several “popular” session for which the presenters offer “encore” presentations in the OpenJam if requested. Control your destiny – make your need / request / idea known and be prepared to be surprised.
Use the Law of Two Feet
From “Open Space Technology” the Law of Two Feet, provides the freedom to people that if they are attending a discussion or session for which they are not receiving value, you are empowered to leave and go elsewhere to find value. While Agile2015 is not a full open space event (it does have an Open Space component via OpenJam), I would suggest that the Law of Two feet is in effect. If you head into a session and it quickly pivots into something that you aren’t interested in, don’t be afraid to exercise your option to leave and head to another session where you might receive greater value. You are responsible for maximizing the value you get out of the time you invest to attend a lengthy conference such as Agile2015 so you should exercise your empowerment to maximize your return from time invested (ROTI).
Try Out The “Surprise Rule”
I learned this trick from a colleague attending conferences in another industry – since Agile2015 is a week-long conference, give yourself a treat at least once or twice and go to a session that has NOTHING to do with what your normally do (exposing yourself to new ideas so as to perhaps learn about a future career pivot) – you’ll know if you’re picking a good session since you may even feel a bit anxious walking into the room (how on earth am I going to relate to anything that is discussed / presented in this session) – example: if you’re a scrum master, go to a session about coding and refactoring (hands on keyboard) – if you despise budgets, financials and Enterprise Governance, go to a session on the Portfolio track – specific for this year, if you work at a startup or a private-sector organization, go to a session on the Government track. Sometimes hearing information and ideas that is tangentially related to what you normally do will give you greater insights on how to improve vs. listening to ideas in your current area of focus / expertise.
Don’t be afraid of friendly agile people
Conference attendees have achieved nearly 100% occupancy for all the hotels in National Harbor for the entire week so you will be surrounded by community members – I dare say that we’re a highly inclusive and welcoming group, so don’t be shy to make friends and strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you at the bar or at a restaurant. Many resort to Twitter to look for people who are “hanging out” but from personal experience the old fashion “just show up” techniques work just as well.
Silence is Golden
I’ll describe the annual Agile Alliance conference as a “loud” conference – first, there’s a ton of people attending (SOLD OUT), there’s lots of chatter between sessions, dialogue during sessions, and of course after hours socialization, and even BEFORE hours socialization for the Lean Coffee crew (which everyone should check out). Believe it or not, the physiology of your brain determines your tolerance for prolonged exposure to “loud” (yet non-deafening – less than 90 dB) environments. Your brain will appreciate some quiet time and some people need more of this than others, so don’t be afraid to seek out some quiet time – your choice to refrain from conversations (or even socialization) will be respected.
This insight is of particular importance for people staying at the Gaylord – with all of the conference sessions behind held on premise this year (including the party), it is possible to enter the Gaylord on Sunday and NOT exit the building until Friday. This is not recommended! Fresh air rejuvenates your brain, and taking a break to go for a walk outside (along the river) will provide some of the “Silence” mentioned above to balance against the overall “loud” environment of the conference.
Twitter is useful even if you don’t post – #agile2015
While not everyone is a frequent poster on Twitter (nor do you have to be), many attendees and presenters at Agile2015 use Twitter extensively, it’s highly recommended and useful to follow the #agile2015 hashtag. You don’t have to have a Twitter ID to follow along, and you can even just use a browser without needing to install a Twitter app (just go to www.twitter.com/hashtag/agile2015) – this is your best stream for up to date information about what’s going on and late breaking ideas or sessions that you might want to check out.
That’s all for now – Enjoy the journey!