It’s web conference season again and being someone who goes to a ton of conferences, sees a lot of value in talking to the people who also attended a lot of conferences, sees little value in most of the panels at conferences and hasn’t paid for a conference in recent history, I thought I’d pass on a few tips to all you whippersnappers looking for ways to check this out. First off, let me take a second to note that I’ve talked to a lot of people recently who have relayed massive sob stories about not being able to afford conferences so therefor not going. Let me tell you, back in my day we didn’t let silly things like “not having the cash for admission” stand in our way! Anyway, here’s a few tricks to add to your jelly bean bowl that might help you get a seat for free that someone else had to con their company into paying for.

  1. Just walk in. Seriously, you’d be surprised at how often this works. The guards at the doors are supposed to be looking for badges but I suspect they are greatly underpaid and most don’t really care. Just act like you know what you are doing when you walk by. If for some reason they do stop you and ask, tell them you left it in your bag which is already inside and you just walked out a moment ago, don’t they remember?? You’ll be in in a heartbeat.
  2. Don’t want to risk having to BS with a guard? Get yourself a lanyard. A little known secret is that most conferences have unique sponsor branded lanyards that are just as good as a pass. Offer a real attendee $10 for their lanyard and put it around your neck, but tuck the end where a badge usually would be into your sweater or jacket – the guards will see the lanyard and assume you have a badge and waves you right past.
  3. Still worried about having your bluff called? Get a real badge. Doesn’t matter what name is on it, the guards aren’t checking IDs. If you have a pass from last year chances are it’s the same, if you don’t hang around at the end of day one and ask people who are leaving, ESPECIALLY speakers, if they are coming back the following day, and if not can you have their pass? I walked into an O’Reilly conference one year with Tim O’Reilly’s badge and the security didn’t even question it.
  4. Go as press. Finally you are official. After you’ve been to a few of these things chances are you’ve developed some kind of opinion about it. Write something up, and offer it to a few websites that cover these kinds of events/issues. If you don’t sound like a toolbox they might just take it and then presto, you’re a tech journalist. Apply for a press pass next time and maybe you can move up to “topical expert.”
  5. Get an invite. This takes a little more work than you might be up for, and might require doing a few of the above first so that people start to know who you are, but once you have a contact for the conference organizers and have some value you can offer them, most will be happy to slide you a pass.
  6. Be on a panel or present something. The logical next step, stop attending and start contributing. You know you have some scary insight by now right, so go for it.