By Stewart McCoy

A newbie’s guide to An Event Apart

An Event Apart boasts a stellar panel of speakers that, literally, set standards in web design. But it’s expensive. So is it worth the expense and what should you expect?

The conference crowd at An Event Apart Minneapolis 2010

The best web design conference there is. I had a fantastic time at AEA Minneapolis. Everybody I conversed with during the meals and at the after parties commented that AEA is the best conference they have attended. One fellow I spoke to at the end of Day 2 said that the difference for him is that AEA isn’t try to sell anything—we’re all there because we believe in their message.

Why should you attend AEA?

When I first learned about AEA it sounded great. I recognized many of the speakers on the various panels and knew that they had reputations for advancing web design. But then I saw the hefty price tag. Was it really worth it? What would I learn from the presentations I couldn’t learn from blogs, podcasts, and slideshare?

You’ll make some friends

First, it’s not necessarily what you learn, but who you have the opportunity to meet. If you decide to go to AEA, make a point to attend all of the social events. Initiate conversation with other attendees and express interest in their respective niches. AEA is about networking. You’ll meet people that do what you do, or do what you want to do. You’ll also meet people who could turn out to be really good friends. So don’t only engage attendees as professionals, but as people. Take some time to learn about what they do outside of work.

Second, take time to thank the speakers. They’re there for you. They are passionate about what they do, and expressing your appreciation is great for both them and you. They get positive and/or critical feedback that makes them reevaluate, realign, and reenergize their message. And you get the opportunity to share your thoughts, demonstrate expertise and critical thinking, and make good connections.

You’ll get encouragement

I took the opportunity on several occasions to share with people projects I’ve been working on. They were more than willing to comment on and suggest improvements to my work. It goes the other way to. Several people in turn asked me my thoughts on their work. For example, I was able to provide a front-end developer critical feedback about one of his form designs. Unfortunately, I filled out the form and was blasted with insurance quotes I didn’t really need.

You’ll be renewed

After day 2 I was exhausted physically. Sitting in a large conference room all day is draining and makes for a sore butt. However, professionally, I was invigorated. I soaked up the spirit of the AEA atmosphere and took it home with me. I now have fresh perspectives on my work and my career goals. And my tweeps became real. People I’ve followed on twitter for a year or more, that I consider mentors, have personality and heart and soul. They’re not just web design robots. They’re good people who care about each other and about making the web a better place.

The bottom line

If you’ve been thinking about attending AEA but have been put off by the price tag, you’d be mistaken not to attend. The price is more than justified, and you’ll probably make it up in the long run. You’ll increase efficiencies in your work. And you’ll open up new career opportunities.

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