A musician’s guide to bossing conferences


This week I’m off to the Association of British Orchestras conference in Belfast, and it’s got me thinking. As musicians, we don’t really seem to go to as many conferences as other professions. This means that when we do go to them, we don’t really know how to get the most out of our time there, or the money I’ve spent (god I was crap at the first one I went to).


This conference marks the 4 years since the first one I went to (ABO conference again back in 2015), and I’ve learnt a couple of things along the way to help you boss conferences.


(Full disclaimer – I’m not talking about networking in this blog. If you want some tips for that, I wrote something about that here, or Jon Jacob did an awesome blog here)




1 – Make a plan of attack



Conferences tend to be a bit bonkers. There’s lots going on, a lot of people and there is always less time than you expect. Turning up and winging which sessions you want to go to can be a bit stressful and can mean you miss something that would be great for you.


Before you go, have a look at the agenda, work out the sessions that you really want to go to, and plan the day out as to how you want it to go.

2 – Work out who you want to see


Trying my best not to mention networking, but these conferences are great for meeting people. There’s also a chance that you will be wanting to talk to someone specific while you’re there.


Conferences will usually publish a delegates list (and if not a speakers list) before things start. Have a look through and see if there’s anyone you want to connect with, then make a wish list of the people you want to meet.

3 - Get on social media and check out the hashtag


Chances are, any conference now will have a hashtag. It seems a bit cringe worthy at times but trust me, it’s absolute gold. At bigger conferences, it will give you a heads up of things going on which is useful. There’s also going to be a lot more information put out here, useful links, and maybe even videos and presentation slides from the sessions you couldn’t get to.


The bit that is most useful to me is that the hashtags giving you a chance to connect to people attending. You can even start doing this on the way to the conference so that when you turn up, you’ll already have connected with someone.



4 – Have some business cards


Seems old fashioned. Really isn’t. Much easier than trying to spell out your email to someone and it means you can hopefully connect to people later. Don’t have to go mad with these, something cheap and simple will do.



5 – Eat the free food


Pretty simple. Chances are, you’ll have spent a good chunk of money going to this thing, and you may have to scrimp and save elsewhere (first one I went to I stayed in a youth hostel). Eating any free food available will save you cash.


Oh, and also, people tend to be normal and chatty when there’s free food… and even more with free drinks. If you want to connect to people, this is a great place to do it and people will be more open. That’s probably a better reason that “it saves you money” (you can take the man out of Yorkshire…)



6 – If you need it, take some space


There always seems to be a pressure to cram in as much as possible at conference. I find this utterly exhausting. If you’re drained, you’re not going to be able to get the most out of things. So, if you need to take time out for a breather and to gather your thoughts, take it. Either plan in advance when you can have a chill, or play it by ear and take the time when you need. It’s 100% worthwhile.



7 – Try something different


If you’ve been to a conference before you’ll know the feeling. In one session, there are 3 things going on at the same time and you can’t go to all of them, then the session after there is nothing that takes your fancy. NOTHING. In fact, they look boring and you would rather slink off and check emails or do your tax return or something.


I’ve been there as well. At my first conference I had one of these moments. I had no idea what to go to, so I went into the closest talk… something dull on behavioural psychology or something… snoozefest.


It was by FAR the best session of the whole conference. As well as the topic actually being fascinating (turns out behavioural psychology is the science of why you buy things… think Inception but without Leonardo Di Caprio), but the guy was also really funny! I came out of the whole thing enthused and energetic. So go on, give something different a go… it might be great!



8 – Set realistic goals


No one wants to come away from these things feeling crap, or that they have waster their money on the conference. In reality, if you feel like the conference has been a failure it will be because you’ve set some unrealistic goals (been there, done that, got the T-Shirt).


Having a wishlist of people to meet is great… but it’s totally unrealistic that you will expect to meet them all. Likewise, coming away having “made that big connection”, or “got the big sale”, or “have that big epiphany” etc isn’t always going to happen. If it does happen, it probably won’t happen until the dust has settled a few days later.


Work out some realistic goals as to what you want from the conference and stick to them.

Advice & TipsDavid Taylor