Getting the Most Out of In-Person Tech Conferences

Earlier this month, I spent 4 days at Render Atlanta, and if you follow me on Twitter I'm sure you noticed that it was a little different than other conferences. Tons of good food, drinks, music and people made this the most fun conference I've been to! It had been nearly 3 years since I went to an in-person conference due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so I was a little rusty on how I should approach networking, attending talks, and just trying to get the most out of it overall! These are the things I learned and tactics I used to make sure I took advantage of every moment!

What's Your Goal?

Some people only go to conferences to watch technical talks and learn that way. Others only go to connect with people, have good conversation, and hang out with like-minded individuals. For many, it's a combination of the two. Perhaps you're looking to hire, or be hired. Like in engineering, for conferences it's important to have a success metric. Success starts with knowing what you want.

Pick the Right Events

Not every conference will meet your success metrics, and that's okay! Now that you know what you want, you can read about the available events and find what looks like it will help you reach your goals. Talk to people in your network who have gone before, search the conference on Twitter or other social media to see what people are saying, or look for past year's schedules and talks. These are all tools I used to decide I wanted to attend RenderATL.

Many speakers tend to stick to one subject, so watch videos or read content from the speakers who will be at the conference! Don't go to a conference full of speakers who engage in the front-end development space expecting to come away with a ton of back-end knowledge.

Meet People

This is the big one. I know I can't just say "meet people," because it's really hard! Going to a conference without knowing anyone can be daunting even for outgoing folks - and that is very much not me. The first day I arrived, I grabbed a drink from the hotel bar and sat on a couch, unsure of what to do next. People slowly did the same until suddenly there were a handful of people sitting in the same area, and we got to chatting. Turns out we were all looking to go get some food, so we all grabbed lunch and stayed in touch all throughout the conference! It was so nice to see familiar faces every day, but I got lucky that I met a group of people. I wanted to make more connections and network all week.

I definitely recommend staying at the host hotel whenever possible. So many connections and good conversations were enabled simply because my room was right upstairs and I could come down to the lobby whenever I wanted to network.

I had been the one sitting on a couch waiting for something to happen the first day, but as I got the hang of things I decided to flip it around. I started saying hello to people who weren't engaged in conversation, or better yet, people who I was standing near me in the food line (the lines were long but the food was delicious - this presented a great chance to chat!). Turns out a lot of people were like me, just unsure of how to get a conversation going, but excited to chat about tech!

Make it Easy to Connect

Like, really, really easy. Sometimes I found myself in a 10-person "huddle" and we all wanted to get connected, but it's far too tedious to keep passing around phones to exchange LinkedIn or Twitter handles. During some downtime at brunch the first day, I decided it was time to find a better way. I created a wallpaper for my phone that used the same branding and colors of the conference, that included a QR code to a special landing page I whipped up that was specific to the conference. You can see it at k10y.com/render. Below, is a representation of how my custom networking graphic it looked, however the one I used was sized for my phone screen not a browser window.

I used the short link pattern from my blog to make a super easy to remember URL. This included a photo of me, a bit about me and my blog, and links to the social media I wanted to connect on (Twitter and LinkedIn, in this case). Suddenly, I could connect with that whole group of 10 at once because everyone could just scan the code, which I had set as my lockscreen.

Don't forget to make your link look really nice when shared on social media! I found myself sending it via DM on Discord and Slack a lot, so it was a big plus that there were meta tags to show a cover image, title, and description - this made it super clear what I was sending and what the purpose was.

Even if you don't have a website, you can directly share a QR code to connect on LinkedIn, or generate one to link to other platforms. Having a personal site was a huge plus for networking though - I highly recommend maintaining one even if it's simple or low-effort.

I also noticed a lot of attendees and speakers start adding "@ RenderATL" to their name on Twitter. I changed mine to "Keegan Donley @ RenderATL" and it made it easy for people to know they had the right person, and the fact that people did this made it easy for me to connect with other attendees!

Use your New Network

This one was completely new to me, and it worked so well for this conference! Some of the people I met the first day created a Discord server I joined. I wasn't much of a Discord user before this, but it was big for this conference - a large majority of attendees were in the official server together. Once we had our small one, it was easier to stay in touch, but also easier to grow the network of people I knew! Turns out the hardest connection to make is the first one, and then you can introduce each other to your other connections, and keep growing from there! Our Discord grew and there was always someone new to meet and chat with.

Enable Easy Note-Taking

I took detailed notes during some of the talks - but definitely not all of them! I tried to strike a balance between knowing what I needed to write down, and what I needed to just absorb and pay full attention to. Having different mediums of note-taking super handy. I had my MacBook Air, which is light enough that I could carry it in my backpack without too much trouble. I also had my iPad Pro for handwriting notes, and my iPhone for jotting things down that I needed to remember quickly. Even after conversations with people I could quickly write down notable points, and this was especially useful as I was writing about my conversations surrounding developer feedback.

Wear a Fun Shirt

Honestly, this really works! I did this by accident but it will forever change how I approach conferences. The first day I wore a very bright floral shirt, and so many people remembered me for it! I'd be eating lunch or visiting a vendor booth with someone, and they'd say they remembered me because of my shirt the previous day! This was not something that was even on my radar, but it helped break the ice, and at the same time build multi-day connections.


It felt so good to be back to in-person conferences! I hope you find these lessons I learned useful! Once you have a goal, and choose a conference, it's so much fun to meet people and network. It definitely took some time for me to get back into the habit of talking to strangers, but I'm glad I did! Do you have any tips or tricks you use when attending conferences? Let's chat about it over on my Twitter!