I’m writing this blog while en route from Vancouver to TechED Las Vegas, which marks the start of the fall conference season. In light of the upcoming in-person events, both big and small, I started to think about how you could get more out of them. I reached out to a few veterans of in-person events and asked them for their best tips (and added a few of my own). Thanks to Jason Cao, Mark Finnern, Greg Myers, Jamie Oswald, Tammy Powlas, Jon Reed, and Mick Yuk for sharing their advice.
- Arrive a bit earlier to make for a speedy check in and recovery from travel so you are fully rested before the event starts.
- Attend the “social” gatherings and welcome receptions to look for familiar faces ahead of time.
- Book sessions early but be flexible. Lots of the best things happen in the networking lounge!
- Make list of TOP 10 of the following no later than the week before: people to meet, sessions or events to attend.
Stay Plugged In (Literally)
- Watch for the daily news as they will often report on the day before and cover what is happening that day as well.
- Put each event and location in the calendar ahead of time so it’s accessible via your mobile device and you can get reminders.
- Watch relevant #hashtags to get a feel for the event on the ground and where the action is (as well as last minute schedule changes).
- Be as mobile as possible, phone and tablet but plan for no WIFI and low signal. Bring lots of camera memory.
- Bring a long extension cord for better access to power strips.
Enhance Your Learning
- Take part if possible in the community activities like InnoJam, Demo Jam, Clubhouse and the like whether as a spectator or participant or both.
- Focus on “live experiences” that cannot be duplicated or watched on-demand after the fact such as hands-on workshops, pods for hands-on demos, special events (e.g. Demo Jam).
- Partake in as many expert lounge informal 30 minute sessions as you have time for (informal learning, quick insights on the go, deeper community connections).
- Don’t be afraid to reach out and say hello to your fellow attendee, you both have things in common after all but treat everyone with kindness and respect.
- SMILE! 🙂
- Start a conversation by asking questions to learn about a person’s passions and interests.
- Rescue the wall-flowers – even if you’re not hosting the event, involving those too shy to join a conversation can uncover as many benefits as engaging the ‘celebrities’.
- Have a gentle style of conversation – in conversations, stay focused, listen carefully, and try to follow the conversational rhythm of the other person.
- Have lunch with a group of total strangers and start a conversation.
- Speed networking is a really great to quickly get people familiar with each other: Sit down with 5 strangers and have 10 minutes to introduce yourself and why they are at the event. Repeat 2 x and everyone walks away with 15 new contacts. Changes the atmosphere of the whole event!
- Hallway conversations are the best. Bring the hallway on the main stage.
- Bring business cards, but don’t hang onto the ones you get. I usually try to put them in my contacts (I use Gmail, which will follow me from job to job) or LinkedIn (which will also follow me) to connect with people the night I get their cards. No sense dragging small, impossible to track and organize pieces of paper everywhere. Also, make sure to add a note to their electronic information to remind you where you where you met them and anything else interesting.
- When meeting new people, always ask them first for their business card, then name and position. Listen and then tailor the conversation so it’s engaging and interesting.
- Diversify your groups as sticking to one set of folks the entire time can limit your overall experience.
- Don’t be afraid to meet people. You may have already missed an opportunity to strike up a conversation with someone interesting.
- Focus on building your network in your industry/area of focus (the better SAP professionals have the better networks).
- Be a connector – great networkers enjoy connecting people and you generate goodwill at the same time.
Optimize Your Energy
- Wear clothes that you feel good and comfortable in, including shoes. It’s not uncommon to spend all day and night in the same outfit.
- Try not to take your briefcase everywhere with everything in it. Unless you are going to blog all day, an iPad and small notebook should do just fine. If you get called out for work, chances are you’ll want to go back to your room for some peace and quiet anyway.
- Eat healthy meals and snacks throughout the day, and keep hydrated. Minimize the junk food.
- If you have time to stay an extra night, attend an event or show.
Follow Up After the Event
- Make sure you come through for the team back at your project that funded your trip (and get them the info they need)
- Within 72 hours of arriving home, be sure to email follow ups and add folks to your social networks while it’s fresh!
- Sleep when you get back home 🙂