Making the Most of Student Conferences

CGIU, SABF, HPAIR...such is the esoteric language exchanged between conference-hoppers of my generation. They’re ambitious, overachieving, and great at networking with their wide-eyed enthusiasm after a restless night. I was fortunate to be invited to dozens of startup conferences with inspirational young people from around the world. At CGI U, I was mindblown and humbled. Within a few minutes, I met students who created a soccer ball that converts kinetic energy into electrical energy to charge cell phones and radios in off-grid communities. Other students invented a portable system to convert air to water, virtually creating a readily accessible supply of clean water. Here are some few pointers on how to make the most of attending a conference.

1. Network before.

This is the most valuable thing you can do prior to a conference. Look up the attendees on the guest list and feel free to send them a message. I've found fellow attendees to be extremely welcoming. Likely, you won't be able to meet everyone on your list during the conference, so starting a conversation beforehand will allow you to establish a foundation and possibly set a time to meet. For one conference, I set up a dozen back-to-back meetings with investors and pitched throughout the day instead of attending sessions. These one on one meetings proved to be valuable as  I still keep in contact with many of them.

2. Strategize.

At large conferences, there will likely be multiple sessions ongoing simultaneously. Look at the background of each speaker and choose the lectures most relevant and interesting to you. These breakout sessions are often effective ways to connect with high-impact leaders on a very specific topic, so it's a great source to find potential mentors and advisors. 

3. Keep an open mind.

Conferences are dialogues. There is never quite a connection like the one you can have in speaking to someone in person. There are some of the brightest and most experienced veterans of the industry, so get ready to challenge your ideas and tackle exciting problems.

4. Have fun.

People are what makes conferences enjoyable. You are surrounded by inspiring, intellectual, and motivated peers. Your objective should be to seek out great conversations and long-lasting relationships with awesome people. Some of my most memorable moments are those spent on the dance floor with fellow attendees.