How to Win at Conferences

This is a spiritual successor to my friend Corey Haines’s talk at Steel City Ruby last year. If you haven’t check it out first.

How does one win at a conference you say? For some the purpose of going to conferences is to learn but for most its to expand their network of like minded individuals.

Last week’s Madison Ruby was the first conference I focused solely on meeting as many people as possible as well as catching up with friends who’ve I’ve met at other conferences. I was coming off a two month stint of focusing strictly on watching my kids so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get back into the community.

I had a blast and left with a ton of new community friends and here’s how I did it…

Focus on Real Relationships

Introduce yourself to as many people as possible. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy just a simple “Hi, I’m <name>. What is it that you do?” Bam! That’s it.

To take it to the next level you listen to the other person talking, see what they’re excited about, and see if you have anything to contribute to the conversation about the things they’re excited about. If you follow this format you’ll meet a ton of folks.

In all the conferences/meetups I’ve attended I think there have only been a handful of people that weren’t receptive to this. And for these cases I just attribute it to bad timing: maybe they were hungover, maybe they were trying to get somewhere or maybe they just flat out didn’t like me. I have no idea. All you can do is improve everyday and be nice to people. You can’t control who is receptive to you and who isn’t. But just as long as you’re nice and are receptive to what someone’s passionate about you’ll have a new pal 99.999% of the time.

Heroes Are People

If you see someone that you have looked up to go and introduce yourself and be sure to follow the same format I described above. Just don’t expect them to solve your career crisis (I’ll talk about this another day) or fix all the problems you have with your code. Chances are they are just regular folk that never asked for the burden of having ‘fans’.

Also don’t expect a meeting in person to result in them following you on twitter. Remember the focus here is to build REAL RELATIONSHIPS and not new twitter followers. There are a ton of people I admire/respect who I can say is a conference buddy but not one of my twitter followers.

Be in All the Places

Make sure you’re always moving. Don’t always sit with the same crowd of people or have lunch with the same group. Madison Ruby did an excellent job of facilitating this by having people go out for lunch rather than having everyone sit in the same room. I moved around so much to meet folks that I even introduced myself to a bunch of college kids crashing one of the parties at Bendyworks.

The Swag Trick

Have cool stickers. I had no idea that these things were so beneficial. I tweeted a pic of the ones I had to share and mentioned if anyone wanted one they should come find me (this doesn’t work if your twitter avatar doesn’t resemble you). It even evolved to a cool game of sticker exchanges.

I’d imagine this works with other kinds of swag (ie t-shirts) but as an extra tip I didn’t have much success with Sriracha packets.

Roomies

YMMV but room with a random stranger. It worked out really well for me. Not only did I get a discount on my stay but I met an awesome new friend. We got to have breakfast together, have nightcaps, and walk to the conf together.

If you’re the room host make sure to notify your roomie when you’ll be in town. My buddy Adam was extra generous by texting me when he got into town and instructing the concierge to give me a key when I got there. If possible you’d want to meet before the morning and avoid the possibility of waking up to a Gnome. True story.

Volunteer

You heard about this a couple of days ago. This shows that you’re willing to put your free time and energy into the community and people receptive to that.

So that’s my pro guide to attending conferences and meeting new people. Hope it helps!

11/12/15 Addition: Live Blogging

I’m amazed by how well this “hack” worked. Rather than having to go out and meet people I had conference speakers and attendees coming to meet me. All I did was open a google doc, made it publicly available (view only), shared the link, and took notes. I also tweeted highlights here and there.

Other attendees thanked me because they didn’t feel like they had to take notes. That they could actually pay attention.

Surprisingly I didn’t see a drop off in what I absorbed either.

And I continued to have conversations with people after the conference because they were interested in my write-ups for each session.