Attending Tech Conferences: Speak to the Speakers

In December of 2023, I wrote an article called The Importance of Attending Conferences detailing how important it is to attend conferences in person for your career growth. I’d like to continue with this idea and for this article, talk about how important it is to speak with the speakers and the attendees.

Last November, I spoke at the Build Stuff conference in Lithuania. One of the things that I noticed while I was attending was that the attendees were not interacting with the speakers much outside of their session. I even sent out a tweet encouraging attendees to come and ask me questions about code performance or interviewing. Sadly, no one did. Most of the people that I ended up speaking with were fellow speakers and organizers.

For as long as I have been speaking, I feel one of my duties at a conference is to be available to the attendees to help them with issues they are dealing with on their projects. Especially if that conference paid for me to travel halfway around the world to speak there.

I make sure that if I’m not speaking, preparing to speak, or resting, I make myself available to the attendees. I walk around the conference area. I seek out people to chat with at lunch and other events. I attend sessions where attendees can talk with me before or after the session.

I will say that every conference is different and some go out of their way to ensure there are networking events. But at these events, I mostly see attendees talking with other attendees that they know. While this is good, what is even more valuable is to seek out other attendees and speakers that they don’t know to get more opinions and information.

To illustrate this further, I will tell you what happened while I was teaching a workshop at a Code Camp in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the United States. I encouraged my workshop attendees to walk up to a table of people that they didn’t know at lunch and strike up a conversation. After I shut down my computer and walked up to the lunch area, guess what I saw? All my attendees were talking with each other! After lunch, I told them that they did exactly what I said not to do!

I have also learned speaking in many states in America and other countries, some of the hesitation for attendees to interact with the speakers or even each other is a regional or cultural thing. For example, speaking in India, I am inundated with attendees wanting to talk with me or take a selfie. So much so, that I must periodically escape to my hotel room to get away from it for a bit. After all, I am an introvert! But at other conferences, such as in Lithuania and Denmark, I experience the opposite.

Speak to the Speakers!

When you think about it, at every conference, many speakers add up to hundreds of years of experience so this is your opportunity to take advantage of that knowledge. This is your time to use that experience to help you with your projects and career.

For example, if you do have a specific issue, such as with Azure, then seek out one of the speakers who spoke on the subject. They might have the answer or know who does. In my case, you can ask me anything related to .NET, code quality, code performance, interviewing, and more!

One way to break the ice with a speaker that you might not know is to seek them out after they spoke and tell them how much you enjoyed their session. I can tell you that we never get enough of that kind of feedback! Also, send a Tweet about sessions you like too. I use this to tell me how well I did since at most conferences we don’t get any official feedback from the attendees via the conference. However, I have learned that most attendees do not Tweet about their experience at a conference, so please start! Speakers and the conference organizers would like you to!

Still feeling apprehensive about speaking to a speaker?

Then make sure to attend after-hours events such as parties, games, entertainment, etc. where you and the speakers will be in a more relaxed mood, especially after a few drinks. If the bar is not an open bar (free), offer to buy the speaker a drink. This is also a great way to show your appreciation for their time. If a speaker is deep in a conversation, please don’t interrupt. Wait until they are not currently engaged with someone.

If you feel that your question might be a “dumb” one, remember there aren’t any dumb questions, only people who are too afraid to ask! Just be ready for the speaker to not know the answer. For me, if I don’t know the answer, then I most likely know someone I can refer you to. Also, since I am a Microsoft MVP, I can even reach out to my contacts at the company and ask them or a fellow MVP.

The reason I know for a fact all these suggestions work is that I started doing this at the very first major conference I attended the first year that I was a full-time software engineer. I was much more of an introvert than I am now back then so I’m sure I was intimidated by the people I approached. Pushing through my shyness paid off.

One of the first people I met at this conference was Robert Scoble, who was one of the organizers of the Visual Basic Insiders Summit (VBITS) held annually in San Francisco. Robert took a shine to me and invited me to start writing for the Visual Basic Programmers Journal and a few years later I even spoke at VBITS. This is where I met Carl Franklin, one of the hosts of the most popular .NET podcast called .NET Rocks. Not only is Carl still one of my friends, but he has also been on my show Rockin’ the Code World many times. In addition, Carl and I used to play guitar to entertain the attendees at VBITS! I can give you more examples, but I think you got the idea.

Not all speakers are like me, so I can’t speak for all of them. If a speaker does not seem to be willing to talk with you, just walk away and keep trying with another speaker, don’t give up. A little bit of effort will really pay off.

Learn From Other Attendees

Besides the speakers, attendees also represent a wide variety of experiences that you can tap into. I have personally benefited from talking to attendees to help me with issues I might be struggling with at work. As I stated earlier in this article, make sure to talk with attendees that you don’t know. Walk up and start a conversation. I have even just listened to attendees at lunch, after parties, etc., and gained information. Who knows, you just might make a new friend.


I hope that this article has inspired you to be more engaged with the speakers and other attendees at conferences. I know this can be a challenge for many engineers, but I guarantee you that it will work and will help make you a better, happier software engineer.

One other thing. If there aren’t any networking events at a conference, then let the conference organizers know that you would like to have them improve that the next time the conference is held. Also, if your company does not let you go to conferences, then push for them to let you go and for them to pay for it. If they still don’t, it might be time to find a new position. Any good software company knows how valuable in-person conferences are. You can’t get this type of interaction at virtual conferences and is one of the major reasons I do not enjoy speaking or attending them.

I look forward to potentially encountering you at a conference in the future. Please feel free to share your thoughts and insights in the comments below. Your feedback is always valued and appreciated.

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