The Social Moron's guide to conferences

Ian Lurie
conference moron

Tip ‘o the hat to Lisa Barone, who’s written a few great how-to guides for conferences, too.

I am a social moron.

It’s true. When I’m speaking up on stage I have a blast. Throw me into a pre-conference mixer, though, and I guarantee multiple cringe-worthy moments, like:

  • Happily waving at someone while calling them by an apparently random name;
  • Drinking alcohol, which I don’t tolerate well, and then babbling like a moron while people around me avoid eye contact;
  • Spilling an entire lunch tray in my lap;
  • Throwing up into the Pacific Ocean while losing my $400 prescription sunglasses in the process;
  • Suffering a socially-induced anxiety attack after making some ridiculous comment and fleeing the room.

(All of the above have happened at least once.)

Thing is, though, we’re lucky as internet marketers to be in a fantastic community full of helpful people who love to teach. Skip the social stuff and you’re missing out on some major fun. Plus, you won’t get to see me spill a meal into my lap. So, here’s what I do to navigate a conference without dissolving into a sweaty heap.

Arrange a meetup ahead of time

Twitter has saved me. I get to introduce myself to folks weeks before a conference and even set up a time to meet with a few friends at the hotel bar. Connect with people before you arrive and find out what they’re up to. See if they’d like to meet for a meal, a drink or to discuss the latest Google algorithm change. It’s ok – you’re among geeks.

Get some exercise

Once, I was a workout-aholic. I don’t get the time any more, but when traveling I take advantage of the hotel gym as much as I can. For me, at least, exercise is a great way to burn off nervous energy and relax at the same time.
Exercise releases endorphins, which work even better than alcohol when it comes to greasing the social wheels. If I had my way, the first conference meetup would always be a Yoga class or a bicycle ride.

Go say hi

If you see someone you know, go say hi. The less time you spend floating in that awkward inter-huddle netherworld, the less you’ll feel like a boob.

Plan your vendor visits

Check which vendors will be at the conference, then plan out who you’re going to want to visit. Give yourself something to do.

First, at most conferences the exhibition floor is only open so long. If you really want a tour of the latest, greatest tool, then you’ll want to make sure you’ve got a plan. Also, roving around while meeting with folks is a great opportunity to bump into friends and colleagues.


If you’ve got knowledge to offer, offer it! If someone wants to buy you a drink in exchange for a quick learning session, go for it. I’ve never “given away too much” information. I have, however, made some great friends and landed a few clients by teaching. Plus, it gets you into the groove.

Get comfortable

Get a room in the conference hotel, if you can. It’s more convenient, and there’s just a bit less stress involved with getting and from the conference each day. Plus, if you overindulge it’s easier to stumble back to your room without getting lost.

Eat less-than-awful

Yeah, I hit the chocolate and hamburgers pretty hard on the road, too. But, if you can minimize the grease and sugar, and maybe eat an apple (instead of feeling like one should be stuck in your mouth) you’ll feel a hell of a lot more on the ball.

Otherwise, by the end of the conference you may feel more like a stick of butter than a human being.

Work the after-conference

Remember all those folks you met at the conference? Follow ’em on Twitter and/or Facebook to keep in touch. Next time around you’ll know more people and you’ll feel that much more like you belong. Which you do.


Enjoy conferences. They’re a great chance to learn and get to know the community. You’re part of it, too, you know.

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

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  1. Ian,
    I LOL’d through the entire article from the hilarious self-commenting you provided, while nodding my head up and down at each recommendation. The whole meetup thing is something I try to do at every conference I attend – what I fondly refer to as the #EpicDinner of that conference. Getting as many people to attend as possible. Definitely breaks the ice.

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