Here’s my final offering, part 2 of ‘Ways to Attend a Conference for Less’. If you think I’ve missed something, or you have additions to make – please add your thoughts via comments. Contributions are more than welcome!
7. Be a Rapporteur
A rapporteur is a person appointed to investigate an issue or situation and report back to the appointing organisation. If you know of NGOs, charities, departments, committees, associations and agencies in your field that may be interested in a national event you are targeting, contact them directly. State that you are planning to attend Conference X and ask whether they would be interested in your acting as a rapporteur for them and – if so – whether the organisation would be able to supplement your attendance. It is highly unlikely that the organisation will pay your registration costs (they would most likely send their own people), however, you may be able to negotiate all or part of your travel costs in return for a report on the conference that pays close attention to the particular interests of your new sponsor.
Note: This is by no means an easy way to bring down your conference costs, as it requires careful organisation. As with ‘Be a Journalist’ (below) you may want to consider having a CV to hand, with proof of writing experience to demonstrate you have the skills necessary. Also, you will need to make sure that the conference sessions that you are interested in will be commensurate with the interests of the organisation sponsoring you.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you are supplying a professional service to your sponsor. Your note-taking will need to be of a high-quality, and you may need to dedicate substantial time to writing-up your report. On the other hand, this could be an excellent way of introducing yourself to potential sponsors (employers?!) and proving yourself to be both useful and professional.
8. Be a Volunteer
Those of you paying attention will have spotted the great Comment contributions from Karen about volunteering at conferences. Volunteering may ensure you can attend a conference for free, or at a reduced rate. This point merges with the next, but note that being a volunteer need not be the experience of a general dogsbody. If a conference is not delivered by an Events Management Company, there should be opportunities available.
9. Be a Conference Organiser
Closely linked to Volunteering, this Conference Organisation also recognises the value in getting involved in a conference at a more formative level. Routes into conference organisation may come for students in the form of Post-Graduate conferences, local Research Networks, or larger conferences organised within your department or by colleagues in your field. Unconferences offer another way in, for those wanting to get their hands dirty (thanks again to Karen on this!).
Organisational committees usually require regular meetings to arrange and discuss the finer points of organisation. If you are a post-graduate student, your role may depend on the networks you are involved in, or simply how pushy/assertive you are. You may be representing your host institution, relaying information or working to represent and involve your peers. If you are not a departmental or business insider with funds to deploy, remember you may have leverage in terms of your own expertise (Accessibility? Technology? Education? Other?) and your access to contributions ‘in-kind’. There are particular aspects of support that all conferences require, including helping hands to promote the event to relevant communities, Referees to gauge and review the quality of papers submitted, and session Chairs who introduce speakers, co-ordinate questioning and ensure that presentation slots run to time.
10. Be Self-Employed
Becoming self-employed is a significant step that should not be taken lightly. In effect you are setting up a small business which will entail managing your tax return, record keeping and invoicing amongst other things. However, as a freelancer [registered sole-trader] in the UK I’m able to offset business expenses against tax. Conferences, travel and subsistence (meals and overnight accommodation) make up part of my business expenses. Clearly there’s a balance to be struck here – as to claim for expenses you need to ensure enough taxable income to make this viable.
More information about becoming self-employed is available via Business Link and HMRC. The Inland Revenue also provide a guide to “Expenses and Benefits” . For a plain language version aimed at Freelancers consider the Freelance Advisor Guide.
11. Off-set the Costs
Substantial Freebies are relatively rare. Many conferences include a ‘goodie bag’ containing a memory stick with the conference proceedings therein, a journal or two and some note paper. However more notable Goodies do exist. Were you thinking of buying an iPad? Maybe you should’ve registered for this year’s Handheld Learning Conference . At between £495-£595.00, their early-bird registration is steep – but it includes a free iPad and a £100 voucher for the Game Based Learning Conference. Double trouble!
12. Attend Remotely
Attending a conference remotely is an increasingly viable option as conferences become ‘amplified’. Whilst conferencing from the comfort of your own home or place of work might not be as glamorous as jetting to distant climes for cocktails and parallel sessions, it’s difficult to find a more convenient option. Where else can you watch presentations in your pyjamas? Don’t answer that.
The term ‘amplified events’ was coined to describe ways in which networks and related technologies are being used to enhance the impact of, and access to, discussions and learning at events such as scholarly conferences.
Amplified events may make use of Twitter (as an event ‘back channel’), Slideshare (making presentation slides available), social networks, live video streaming, downloadable video and event ‘hashtags’ to allow content to be easily found. Blogrolls may combine all the online commentary posted after an event offering a ‘digested read’ of key speakers and sessions. From this point it’s increasingly possible to follow up such leads online, making connections with delegates without attending in person. Some events take place entirely within virtual spaces (although I must admit, my SecondLife avatar is getting a little dusty). Moreover, even those events that are not formally represented online may have been compromised by rogue Tweeters; counter-surveillance and wi-fi lock-down not withstanding. Read more about the benefits of amplified events on Brian Kelly’s blog
If you are unable to attend for any reason, developing your own strategies for navigating multi-media coverage makes observation and interaction possible. I increasingly find that tracking hashtags for key conferences in my field allows me to extend my Twitter network to incoporate new people that I might never have otherwise discovered. Of course, there are other benefits. For example, last year the Handheld Learning Conference 2009 made many of their presentations available to watch online and download via iTunes. This meant I was fortunate to be able to listen to a keynote by the Great Ray Kurtzweil whilst washing up with my Ipod in my pocket. This allowed me to multi-task though chores and with my work schedule unaffected. Listening to and viewing presentations in this way later informed my blog post about the conference’s inclusion strand.