Conferences in the wake of the pandemic

Gus By Gus

Recently I was lucky enough to fly out to Valencia to attend KubeCon. Firstly, a huge thanks to Spark client, Venafi, for hosting me. It was great to finally meet people I’ve been speaking to for months over Zoom.

This was the first time I’d attended a conference since before the pandemic. Amidst the seemingly endless supply of paella and tapas, when Kubernetes wasn’t the topic of conversation, many discussions revolved around COVID-19 seemingly subsiding, and virtual, hybrid and in-person events. Overall, more-or-less everyone I spoke to – media and exhibitors alike – agreed that conferences tend to work better in-person.

There’s something about physically witnessing a talk track that isn’t quite the same when you’re doing it virtually, and it was great to interact face-to-face with media. So, as more events become in-person again, I’ve got five pieces of advice for people attending conferences in 2022:

1. Take more than one mask: I made the rookie mistake of taking just one mask to KubeCon. They were compulsory on the plane to and from Valencia, whilst attending the show and in taxis to and from venues and hotels. It was fluffing into my eyes and becoming increasingly uncomfortable, meaning I needed to pick up another. I’d advise taking more than one mask and rotating, so you are not sent on a shopping trip mid-event.

2. Be conscious of others: One thing that the event organisers did very well was ensuring that everyone felt comfortable with physical contact. On our lanyards, you had a choice between three stickers: green (“I’m OK with physical contact”), amber (“I’m more of an elbow than a handshake kind of person”) or red (“I’d rather not have any physical contact at all”). At an event where you’re likely to be shaking hands with potentially hundreds of people in a day, it was great to see everyone’s needs were being taken into account in a clear way. Also, in a loud conference centre, media interviews with masks on can be difficult as voices become muffled, so we were very careful to ask media whether they’d prefer masks on or off for interviews.

3. Be prepared for things to take a little longer: Many of Spark’s security clients often reference the age-old conundrum of speed vs security. This translates well over to conferences these days, and when people’s health is on the line, it’s absolutely critical to get it right. At KubeCon, we had our temperatures checked upon arrival every day. It only took a few seconds for those arriving early, but I can imagine there were slightly longer queues for people arriving closer to opening time. I don’t think anyone at the show would argue against this being an important process when there were thousands of people under the same roof, but remember to plan for things like this when arranging meetings or interviews.

4. Wear appropriate footwear: This is a more general piece of advice and something I’d forgotten since last time I attended a conference – another rookie mistake. You do a lot of standing at events like this, and as soon as I walked through the doors on day one, I realised my error. Almost everyone else was wearing nice, squashy trainers, and there I was in brogue boots. Day one blisters were a painful reminder that you should consider wearing more functional footwear for conferences.

5. Listen and learn: At a conference, you’re surrounded by thought leaders, so it’s a great opportunity to listen, learn and really get a grasp on your client’s industry and messaging. Not only did I learn a lot from the media briefings we had with spokespeople, but just walking around, attending talks and presentations, and watching at-booth demos really helps you to get a better understanding of the space.

Overall, I had a great time at KubeCon, and I’ll be sure to carry these pearls of (sometimes painfully-gained!) wisdom over to my next conference. We’re looking forward to more in-person events taking place in 2022, where the Spark team can continue to deliver great results while drinking in some culture (and Spanish cider straight from the barrel – see my jealousy-inducing photo).