The Fetch Blog

Curated reads and events for professionals

How to hustle your way into conferences for free — December 27, 2013

How to hustle your way into conferences for free


Conferences can be expensive – especially if your work isn’t covering the ticket. That doesn’t mean you should miss out some of the networking and learning opportunities. In this guide, we will share our favorite hacks to attend conferences for free.


This is the most rewarding and arguably easiest way to get free entry. You get direct experience and useful connections, even at the smaller conferences. Even better: organizers, and other volunteers, can give you behind-the-scenes advice about the best speakers or private events.

The amount of time you spend helping the organizers depends on the cost of the initial ticket and whether they cover additional expenses.

You may miss out on learning opportunities though. As Thursday Bram noted:

“You may have a much harder time attending the parts of the conference you’re interested in because you may not have a lot of freedom in setting your own schedule.”

Many conferences offer online recordings of sessions for those that were unable to attend for those that don’t want to miss anything.

If you’re interested in volunteering and there’s no formal information present on the website, reach out to conference organizers directly (if you can’t find their details, check them out on LinkedIn on Twitter) and pitch them your involvement.

Borrow a badge

Writer Sarah Lacy borrowed a speaker’s badge for the Web 2.0 conference from Marc Andreessen. She wrote about it in Once You’re Lucky, Twice You’re Good, the book she talked about at this Mixergy interview. (More tips from Mixergy here.)

We don’t advocate this technique but it can work. Many badges aren’t checked at smaller conferences, especially on the second day.

[Editor’s note: someone recently told me they even mocked up their own badge using Photoshop, which they used to successfully gain entry to a large annual conference. Obviously this isn’t ethical but it does shine light on the lengths people will go to!]


Usually, I just set up a Google Alert for the name of the conference and the phrase, “free ticket”. I seem to get most of the contests and giveaways that way. (More on 6 Ways to Attend Awesome Conferences for Free.)

This is not a guaranteed-to-work strategy but your odds are increased for smaller events or ones where the organizers are doing a lot of giveaways.

[Editor’s note: we have done ticket giveaways on The Fetch and a lot of these are been on a first-come, first-serve basis. So speediness is your friend here.]

Review for a publication

Sometimes you can get free entry if you agree to review a conference for a high profile blog or publication. It creates a win/win situation, as they get to increase their exposure and credibility. The media get preferred seats, access to the speakers one-on-one and invites to special events.

An alternative is preview the conference in the lead up to it. This is when organizers are looking to do publicity and get the word out there to pump up ticket sales. You can always interview a speaker or write about what this year’s event will hold in exchange for a pass on the day.

Become an affiliate

Many conferences have affiliate programs that will pay you a percentage of the ticket price for each ticket sold via a referral link. Technically, this isn’t a free but it can be a useful way to get reimbursed for the costs.

Offer to help before the conference

Organizers often need help in the lead-up to the conference. This is different from volunteering as it frees you up to attend all sessions and networking opportunities. We recommend contacting an organizer 2-3 months before the conference and ask if you can trade services.


Crowdfunding is when you ask your audience to cover the costs of attendance. Those that do this often promise that they will report on the conference in return for financial support. Alternately, some people host sales to raise funds.

This can be risky. It can be perceived as begging and impact on your credibility. Some conference organizers actively discourage people to raise money this way.


This one is relevant for the entrepreneurs out there… for tech- or startup-related conferences, another way to get into conferences is to demo your product. These can range from competitive pitches like Launch Festival and TechCrunch Disrupt where the winner gets funded, to gender-specific ones like Women 2.0.


Some of the social impact geared conferences, like TED, Skoll World Forum or The Feast, have fellowships that will sponsor your ticket. Make sure you check out the application processes well in advance.

The Fetch Ambassador Program

We also run a local City Ambassador Program, where we send people to report on cool events. It’s a smart way to build your personal portfolio, reach speakers and organizers, and connect with other people in the community. Click here to learn more.

About our contributor // Jade Craven is a blogger and social marketing specialist. Follow her on Twitter @jadecraven.

Image credit: Web Directions South 2012

Making the most of conferences: the rule for forming real connections — November 25, 2013

Making the most of conferences: the rule for forming real connections


I nervously grinned at the security guard, my scarf casually covering my not-VIP-enough-for-this-building conference pass. Charm was unnecessary, though; I was floating through the highly-patrolled doorway on the arm of the event’s star speaker. No one would have dared to question her. She was, and still is, my lifelong hero. I’d run into her for the first time on the sidewalk two minutes earlier. Then, just like that, she’d insisted on bringing me to her talk, one that low-level attendees weren’t invited to. It was a talk, I suspected, that might change my life. (I was right.)

Here’s the takeaway: lovely things can happen at conferences, if you’re prepared to make them happen. And doing so is deceptively simple.

The Ultimate Conference Rule: Everyone is Awesome

There are lots of rules for making the most of conferences. They often involve business cards, highlighted agendas, and a color-coded lists of objectives. And they often lose sight of a crucial point: that conferences are made of people. This human-centered focus led me to The Ultimate Conference Rule. Which is, simply, that everyone is awesome. (Don’t forget the corollary, which indicates that you are also awesome.) There are great reasons for you to know that person in front of you, even if they’re not immediately apparent. The Rule has changed my life in more ways than I can count.

How the rule works

If everyone is awesome, including you, then you have nothing to fear from hurling yourself over the sometimes-scary cliff of random new encounters, even if you’re silently yelling “Nooooo! I’m kind of an introvert!” on the way down. (Believe me, I know how that feels.) Here’s how it works: Step 1: Assume that each new person you meet, or bump into, or accidentally spill coffee on, is wonderful. You just have to figure out why. Step 2: Smile, say hi, introduce yourself, and shake their hand. Step 3: Dig in. Ask them questions. Listen. Tell them what you’re up to. Offer to help. If you know something cool about them, mention it and find out more.

The effects of the rule

Since I started approaching people based on the Rule, long before I identified it as such, the following things have happened: Jerri, who’d been on my radar for a while, coincidentally sat behind me at a Startingbloc keynote. I said “Hi! Aren’t you Jerri?” We became instant friends. We were also business partners for two years, which taught me a ton. As the lights dimmed at The Feast, I traded business cards with Danny, a super-talented designer. We turned out to have so much in common that I refer to him as my long-lost twin. After a DEMAN panel, I asked a legendary bassist and producer for his thoughts about creating a life around music. Later, he dared me to sing in front of a room full of people. Terrified, I did. We’re now working together. On the way to a talk at the Skoll World Forum, I started chatting with a kind-looking gentleman to my right on the sidewalk. He turned out to be the incredible filmmaker Taghi Amirani, who has inspired me more than he knows. And that’s just a sampling. The best part? Putting yourself out there can help others become more comfortable doing the same. My friend Sara told me that our first impromptu conversation, after a keynote, helped her get over her natural shyness and eagerly connect with new people. What if we all did that for each other at conferences?

How to make the rule easier to follow

Do your research. Read the bios. Make a note of people who already hold interest for you on paper, remember them, and be open to finding them. Be aware. Put your phone down. Look around. See who you’re naturally drawn to. Smile. A lot. Don’t get discouraged. Some people aren’t at their most awesome all the time. If you have a sub-par interaction, chalk it up to a bad day on that person’s part and don’t sweat it.

Making the rule your own

Remember my hero from the opening story? When I saw her on the sidewalk, my bumbling opening line was literally “Hi! You are my hero. Can I… um, give you a hug?” I knew enough about her to believe that she’d be receptive to that, and I also really like hugging people. That may not be your style. Although the Rule does naturally involve leaving your comfort zone, you don’t have to be a crazy extrovert to use it. You can be quiet, quippy, serious, whatever – just be unabashedly yourself, and remember that you and every other person have something to offer each other. Keep that in mind. Now, go discover the awesome.

About our contributor // Mailande Moran is a musician, writer, and media consultant. You can follow her adventures on Twitter and hear her music on Facebook.

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