Choosing the right conference

It’s no secret that I’m a conference junkie. I love all aspects of them: Learning new things, and being inspired by what others are achieving. Networking with smart people and getting to discuss our successes and challenges. (Aka “talking geek”. Love, love, LOVE!) Getting to reunite with people who, I feel, are now becoming good friends. Coming home re-energised, and ready to do more great things. (And getting to travel somewhere new is just an added benefit, even if I inevitably don’t see much besides the conference venue!

Given I do enjoy attending conferences, people have asked me what I would recommend to analysts at different stages of their careers.

So, for what it’s worth, here is my little 1.5 cents.

If you’re brand new to digital measurement … I would encourage a focus on training, rather than conferences. At this stage of your career, you want to figure out which buttons to push to get to the data you want. Yes, you definitely need to keep in mind the bigger picture, but first and foremost, you need to know how to dive on in. If you’re looking to get into the field, try Google Analytics training. If you’re employed and use an enterprise solution, see if your employer will help you attend your vendor’s training, whether it be  Omniture, Coremetrics or Webtrends.

If you’ve already gotten your feet wet … Once you know how to navigate the solution you use, you have two options. One is to seek out further training in another (relevant) toolset. For example, if you’re an Omniture user, you might want to learn Test & Target. Alternatively (or better yet, in addition!) you may want to attend your vendor’s own conference (for example, Omniture Summit or Webtrends Engage.) You’ll take away tips, tricks and new ideas for how to best use the solution you already have.

If you’ve been around for some time … Expand your horizons by attending a more general analytics conference. eMetrics can be a great one for web analytics professionals. When you attend a conference like eMetrics, you’ll have an opportunity to hear from, and network with, other practitioners who may use different toolsets. This gives you an opportunity to hear, think about and discuss analytics more generally, rather than buried in the minutia of Solution X does this in THIS way.

If you’ve been there and done that … Attend an event where analytics is merely a small piece of the conference opportunity. (For example, I was fortunate enough to attend part of Internet Retailer this year, which has a much broader focus than just web analytics.) Sure, you need to make sure that it has enough value for you to justify your attendance. But the truth is, analysts can get somewhat myopic, and forget that many business folks don’t care about the details of analytics as we do. Truly taking a step back, and seeing analytics as a part of the bigger picture of the business, can be incredibly helpful, and allow you to take that same step back in your day to day life.

Apart from that, here are a few of my other, more general conference tips.

1.  Actually experience it. I know we are all swamped, all the time. But traveling to an event, paying an (often) hefty sum to attend, only to sit there on your laptop working doesn’t benefit anyone. Plan your attendance around busy times, but once you’re there, try to use the time to learn.

2. Talk to people. The network you build can not only make conferences more enjoyable, but  also helps you develop a group of people you can reach out to as needed. The web analytics community is a wonderful group, and most don’t bite!

3. Think in advance about what you want to get from the experience. Is there a new challenge you’re struggling with? Look for sessions that will help you tackle it. Planning, at least roughly, what sessions you want to attend can help you ensure that you don’t later regret ones you missed.

4. Share your knowledge. Take notes, or capture your tweets, and bring them back to share with others in your organisation. It’s a great way to make sure a budget travels further.

We work in an ever-changing field, and keeping your sense of curiosity and desire to learn is crucial to your success. So go out there and enjoy the process!

3 thoughts on “Choosing the right conference

  1. Great post, Jojoba! Interestingly, for me, when I was “just getting into the field” (although I’d been responsible for SPSS Netgenesis — our web analytics platform at the time — for a year, I can’t say I was doing much with it), the first conference I attended was TDWI, which is sorta’ eMetrics for the BI/DW industry. I found that to be enormously useful in that it quickly got me to the “truisms of the field” (and it got me energized about the space). I’d caution against diving too deeply and too quickly straight into “tools training” — it’s needed, certainly, but it’s easy to head down the path of thinking about “what data the tool can deliver” rather than “what data adds value.” All vendors have a blind spot in that area in that they see the world through the lens of what their tool does well, and their training can do permanent damage to a newbie by ingraining in them that *that* is the proper and only way to view the world.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Sir Gilligan! It’s a great point you make. I had been thinking of “new” as the truly new, right-out-of-college type who should probably first understand some true basics. Truth is, there are lots of roads people take into analytics, and there’s no one-fits-all recommendation.

    I attended a BI vendor conference a few years ago and like you, found it a great experience. A predictive analytics conference is another option if that’s something that you have a foot in.

    So many conferences – good times!

  3. Good post Michele.

    I often tell folks there are two types of conferences – Work Conferences & Career Conferences. Work conferences are those that are related to your current work domain and has immediate applicability. Career conferences on the other hand help shape your broader and long-term career & even life perspectives. I think a mix of the two is always good as you want to continuously learn & broaden your vision but also put that learning to good use.

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