When going to a conference most people follow directions.  They see the agenda.  They attend panel after panel, session after session, keynote after keynote.  My advice to you is don't follow directions.  My advice to you is when you go to a conference most the panels are going to be pretty much worthless because if it's particularly a public forum you can't really say much on a public panel.  We all kind of know what's going to happen with the folks who are on that panel.  

What I advise you to do is to actually go off-piste, and find ways to interact with people outside of those sessions.  In fact, what I personally do is I find out who is going to be at that conference, and set up four to six different coffees a day, different little meetings a day, so that I know that I'm going to sit down for 15 or 20 minutes each with people that are outside my realm, people that I may not see on a regular basis.  It doesn't have to be a full meeting.  It just could be grabbing a cup of coffee in a lounge of the conference.  That's going to be time much better spent than just being in the panel session.

If there is a conference that you attended that has work-shopping, that actually has the idea of working in small groups, then definitely attend those parts of the conference.  Whenever I help folks construct conferences, and I've now had the opportunity to help construct several of them, work-shopping is always going to be more interesting to people than panel sessions and keynotes and things like that.

When there is an opportunity for work-shopping, definitely do that.  In terms of the big panel sessions and the big keynotes, these days you can always watch it later on video.  The fact is that those one-to-one interactions, small group interactions, that's really what you want.

In Their Own Words is recorded at Big Think's studio.

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