Conferences are valuable experiences and huge wastes of time, just depending really on what your goals are for attending them. If you ever find your work sends you to such a business gathering, it’s good to make sure you know what you’re getting out of it. Learning and making real human connections has always been my focus and I found myself with an opportunity to do it again at Northern Voice 2013 (no longer . If this were an academic blog or a productivity blog, I’d be talking to you about note taking and time management, but this is a blog about how we can better connect and build stronger relationships with each other, and in this case: conference networking. Here’s six ways you can do that:
1) Be Proactive – You and everyone else are in that space not only to learn but also to meet new people. SO MEET NEW PEOPLE. Whether it’s a hello while in the lunch line or a tweet to them with the conference hashtag, make a point of connecting to these humans. We spend so much time connecting online that we don’t realize the value of IRL moments which, by the way, can enrich those online ones.
Example: I had never met Leanne Froese or Marie Chatterton before the conference. Both in PR and communications, they were unbelievably accessible, engaging and interesting. I look forward to getting to know them better.
2) Be a Sponge – You came to the conference to learn didn’t you? Well it’s not just the speakers that have some thing to contribute. Every person in those rooms has a story to share and experience to you can get something from. And one of the best ways you can engage is by shutting up, asking questions and taking it in.
Example: Theresa Liao is pretty damn smart. She’s a communications officer for UBC who writes about her passion: trying to encourage policy makers to make decisions scientifically rather than bureaucratically by rallying the science community. Damn interesting.
3) Be Supportive – Conferences are not only great places to meet new people but also places to reinforce existing ones. Whether you work with them, met them at a previous conference or have been friends for 20 years, support the personal community you’ve already started building.
Example: Translink’s Jhennifer Pabillano (now City of Vancouver) and Robert Willis are creative communicators who I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with through my day job. Were there other workshops at the same time as theirs that would have broadened my knowledge beyond transportation and just as interesting? Yes. But, would I rather learn a little or support my colleagues a lot? Obviously.
4) Don’t Be Worried – When first getting a conference schedule, it’s all about trying to figure out which workshops to go to and why you’ll be missing because of your choices. Relax. Some of the best conversations, networking opportunities and learning have come from the small groups that don’t make every talk a priority.
Example: On Day 2, I shared current events, travel and insight with a brilliant group of engagement thought leaders Kemp Edmonds, Mike Vardy, Anthony Marco and Wayne Racine. All were people I had varying degrees of history and relationship with but, sitting there in the conference cafeteria, we got better acquainted. That never would have happened if I’d hit up the latest workshop.
Honourable mention: great chat with Brian Thompson aka @thornybleeder after his talk
5) Don’t Be a Blowfish – Hey, it’s not about you…sort of. In marketing/PR/social media/communications conferences, it’s very easy to get into the role of self-broadcaster: this is what I do, what I’ve done, could do for you. I’m guilty of it and certainly regretted a few moments myself. Please, try to resist the urge. Your default should be just sharing a brief bit about yourself unless questioned to reveal more. You’ll engage better and be remembered more fondly.
Example: I swear I may have talked Leeann Froese ear off when I first met her. For no other reason than I was excited to meet new and interesting people and was maybe trying a little too hard to be new and interesting myself. Sorry Leeann.
6) Don’t Be an Island – A conference is much more than just the 8:30am introduction to the 5pm closing ceremony. If you connect on a real level with anyone, you may have the opportunity to go for lunch, dinner or drinks. Take advantage of the opportunity! Where you thinking of going home? You’ll really enhance any meeting of the minds by changing the environment. Drinks can really enhance that but that can get risky.
Example: “Hey, there’s a bunch of us going to dinner. Want to come?” – Mike Vardy. You mean a productivity expert, and two mind-bending (in a good way) podcasters want me to join them for good easts and bevvies? Sold. I laughed and connected. Damn good people.
What’s one way you made the most of your Northern Voice 2013 experience? Or do you have any tips you’ve learned from other conferences? Please, share your brain.
A PLAN B idea with a PLAN A execution is better than a PLAN A idea with a PLAN B execution.