I promised to put together tips for networking at conferences. While sketching out my ideas, I realized that my conference experiences have probably been very different from other people’s. I had a blog before I started going to conferences, and it was perfectly natural for me to use that blog to share my conference notes. I’ve also spoken at most conferences I’ve attended, which really makes it easier to connect with other conference attendees. All the other tips I can share (custom nametags, easy-to-spot outfits, business cards, notebooks, etc.) are icing on the cake. If I can get people to make the big change to writing or speaking (or both!), that will do far more for the value they get from conferences than any little tip I can share about where to wear the nametag. (On your upper right, if possible, near your shoulder, so that people can see it when shaking hands; barring that, close to your neck, even if it looks a little weird, so that people can see it in their peripheral vision instead of having to obviously glance down.)
Blogging and speaking are probably the two most intimidating things I can ask people to do in this context. Speaking seems like the harder one. There are only so many slots, and people have such hang-ups around public speaking. But we’ve also terrified most people out of posting on the Internet because of all this fuss about personal branding and the infinite memory of search engines. I’m very annoyed about this, because I think so many “social media experts” have done us all a disservice by telling people they have to present a perfect image.
But this is what I have to work with. People might like a few connecting tips (conference conversation openers: don’t go for the dead-end “what do you do?” that requires creativity or coincidence to get the conversation going; instead, use conversations as a chance to learn about other sessions and other people’s experiences, and create excuses to follow up by promising to share notes or follow up on ideas). How do I get people to the point where they can make more radical changes, such as starting a blog – even if it’s only for conference-related things?
Here is a list of conference-related blog post ideas:
Before the conference:
- What sessions are you planning to attend? Why? What do you hope to learn? Post titles, session descriptions, speakers, and your thoughts.
- Who are the speakers? Have they shared any presentations or blog posts related to what you want to learn? Post links and what you’ve learned. This might prompt you to revise your plans.
- Can you find other attendees? Link to their plans and connect with them beforehand.
- How can you share your thoughts after the session? Share any plans for post-conference presentations or conference reports.
- Is there a backchannel for connecting with other conference attendees, like a Twitter hashtag you can search for and use? What are the best ways of discussing what’s going on?
During the conference:
- What have you learned from the sessions you’ve attended? What were the key points, and what are your next actions? You can do a few bullet points or paragraphs per session, and organize your posts by day. If you have detailed notes, you might post one entry per session. You don’t have to take notes on everything, but write down what inspired you or made you think, what questions you want to explore, and what you want to do based on what you learned.
- What have you learned from the conversations you’ve been having? What are the other sessions you want to look into later? What experiences have other attendees shared? What actions have you promised for following up?
- Who else has shared their conference notes? Link to them and share what you’re learning from them.
- What’s working well for this conference? What could make it even better?
After the conference:
- Overall, what did you learn from the conference? What were the most important insights and actions you took away?
- What value did you get from the conference? Was it worth the time and effort you invested into it? If your conference attendance was sponsored by an organization, what value did that organization receive? (This is a good thing to include in your post-conference report so that you can increase your chances of attending future conferences. ;) )
- What actions are you planning to take based on what you’ve learned?
- Who else has shared conference-related resources? Link to them and share what you’re learning.
- How did your post-conference sharing go? Share your consolidated report or your presentation notes.
- What new sessions would you like to attend at the next conference? What would it take for you to learn and present those sessions yourself?
- What were the results of the insights and actions you had because of the conference? What new things did you learn when you put them into practice?
- Now that you’ve acted on what you’ve learned from the conference, what new value has your conference attendance given you and your organization?
- What are you learning from your ongoing conversations with the people you met at the conference?
- What worked well for you? How would you make your next conference attendance even more worthwhile?
See, there are tons of things to write about that don’t involve trivial things.
I can’t think of anything that’s a better fit than a blog. Twitter and tumblelogs are a start, but they’re not going to cut it. Too short, too dispersed. Facebook updates are too protected. You want these notes to be picked up by search engines so that you can connect with attendees, speakers, organizers, people from your organization, people who are interested in the topic, and so on. A blog is an excellent way to do this, and it’s easy to start one on a site like WordPress.com.
You might have two sets of notes: a fuller set of notes for personal or internal use, and a set of notes without confidential information that you can share on your blog.
Bonus: If you share your notes through blog posts, you’ve got an instant excuse for following up with anyone you met at the conference. Something like “Hi! Just a quick note to say that it was great to see you at CONFERENCE NAME. In case you find these useful, here are my notes from the conference: LINK.”
And if they like what you’ve written and they want to keep in touch, you don’t have to rely on the fragility of e-mail communications that can stop if one person forgets or doesn’t reply. People can subscribe to your blog and keep up with your future updates, even if the next post is only when you share your plans for attending another conference.
See? Blogging and conferences make perfect sense.
But I still have to figure out how to get people past that instant reaction of “Oh, I could never do that, I’m not a blogger, I’m not a public sort of person, I don’t have the time to do this,” and it’s hard because I’ve never had to get over that hump myself. Yes, there was a point in my life when I wasn’t a blogger, and I’m still not a very extroverted sort of person. But because conferences are a weird combination of energizing and draining for me, and because I can’t bear to waste all that time listening without doing and learning and sharing, and because I hate imposing on conference contacts by trying to build the relationship through personalized e-mails instead of just starting it off with a gift of notes and a low-key way to stay in touch if they want to… I can’t help blogging and sharing.
I’ve promised to put together this collection of tips on connecting at conferences. I’m going to keep trying to figure out how to explain this blogging thing, because I want people to learn a lot from conferences and make great connections. Onward!