Ask Women in Product: What are the best conferences for product managers?

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Answer from Tanya Elkins, Product and Operations Leader

This week, we tackle the question: What are the best conferences for product managers?

Step 1: Is this the right time for a conference?

Anyone with time and budget can sign up for the next product management conference, but I would suggest that one consider her level of experience before venturing out. If you have less than two years’ experience as a product professional, then training on the functional basics or even a mentor relationship might be more valuable to your development than spending two to five days off-site with hundreds of strangers at a larger conference. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to a conference as a brand-new product manager, just that you may get more benefit from a different type of stone to Sharpen your Saw at this stage. That said, I make an exception here for Product Camp, which I believe is suited for everyone and anyone involved in product development, sales, marketing, or management.

Step 2: How do I make the time to get out of the office?

Most days at work rush past us like an ocean wave, leaving us with a small window of time from 10 PM to midnight to try to think about the big picture. If your typical week finds you squeezing creativity, planning, and product strategy into the pre-midnight hours, what hope do you have for getting out of the office to a conference that’s ‘just’ to help you do your job?

Step 3: How do I prepare for it?

Before you book your flights and hotel, take a moment to go through the agenda, think about who might be there, and make a list of the most aspirational outcomes you could achieve at the conference.

Step 4: Which conference do I pick?

If you can only pick one product management conference, which one should it be? As I mentioned, you can’t go wrong by attending Product Camp as often as you can. Other than that, I believe any of the conferences listed below is worthy of consideration because any of them will add significant value as a first-go.

Major Conferences in 2018

See this list in table format

  • Mind the Product. Started in 2012, MTP is one of the largest conferences focused on inspiring product leaders. Sessions follow a TED-style presentation. Price varies based on time of registration and how many sessions you attend.
    In the US: July 16–17 in San Francisco. $700-$1000
    In Europe: October 19 in London, £539 — £699
  • Women in Product. One day. Top leaders in product management Bringing Together Women Who Build.
    In the US: September 7 in San Francisco, California, Cost TBA
  • INDUSTRY. Specific topics and a smaller (though still sizeable) attendee list make this event ideal for product managers looking for actionable strategies to take home. Ticket prices increase every month.
    In the US: October 1–3 in Cleveland, OH. $495 — $1535
    In Europe: April 23–24 in Dublin, Ireland. €395 — €1295
  • Product Camp. The best place to build your street cred as a Presenter and contribute to the success of the event even from the audience. The low ticket cost belies the value of the experience.
    Takes place all year at various sites. $10-$20.

Step 5: I made it! What do I do while I’m here?

Be fully present and engaged; attendance is too low a bar. A conference is an investment in you of several thousand dollars, paid for by your company. If there are teammates who were unable to attend due to budget or workload constraints, make sure your attendance benefits both you and your whole team.

  • Increase the size of your network in each relevant category, including future customers, employers, employees, integration partners, and subject matter experts. This idea is listed first because it’s the one that many women struggle with — even extroverts sometimes grow shy in a sea of people who seem to already know each other, especially when you are attending solo. Conferences are great for two things: content and networking. You can get content from books and the Web, but you don’t get the same networking benefits virtually as you will with face time.
  • Collect market, industry, and trends data to incorporate into strategy and business plans. Seize every opportunity to take a step back and see how your company and product fit into the big picture. Conduct competitive analysis and user research (if possible).
  • Educate the team back at the office — how will your attendance be paid forward? Don’t limit your thinking to peers in product, but think of the bigger picture. What insights could you bring back that will inspire developers, marketing, operations, service, and sales?

Step 6: What do I do after I get back home?

Aim to complete these activities within three days of returning from the conference.

  • Review the outcomes you had envisioned prior and evaluate how well you achieved them. Figure out what went well and what you would do differently next time.
  • Identify follow-up actions that should be taken, then figure out how best to implement the takeaways you consider a top priority. Find someone with whom you can partner to follow through on these action items, then schedule an appointment with your accountability partner to review your plan. A study by the Association for Talent Development has found that you’ll increase your chance of success by up to 95% if you have a specific accountability appointment.
  • Share the wealth of knowledge you’ve gained. Doing so will encourage your colleagues and manager to support you as you get back on your game and certainly won’t hurt your chances of getting funding for the next conference you want to attend. This sharing can be done by updating product plans, feature lists, user stories, personas, or any number of artifacts for which you are a contributor and which can now be improved by your experience.

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