Saturday, September 30, 2017

On Conferences, Again

I've written more than one post with tips for people going to conferences, usually aimed at those who are going for the first time or rarely have the opportunity to go.

Normally, these consist of things I think of as "good ideas" for conference attendees. Ideas like:
  • Be well rested before the conference (many will keep you very busy physically and mentally so be prepared for short sleep and very long, albeit packed, days);
  • Bring business cards, even if your company does not issue them to you (this is less important than it was a few years ago given the continued increase in social media, still, I bring them because I find them handy);
  • Bring an open mind willing to discuss topics you might not normally discuss (you're there to learn, after all - so LEARN);
  • Comfortable clothes in general and comfortable shoes in particular;
  • Devices for taking notes - note pad, laptop, tablet, smart phone - THEN USE THEM!;
  • Courage to walk up to people and introduce yourself - particularly if the person you are walking up to is someone "famous" in our world;
These came from watching people look rather lost and sit like bumps on a log while conference stuff was happening all around them and they were not engaged in any way.

This post is not aimed at those people. It is not aimed at first time conference attendees or even first time speakers. Instead, I direct my words to colleagues who speak fairly often at conferences on testing or... anything else.

Hey folks, I'm Pete. I'm sure we've met before. I know I have seen you around and some of you I've heard present. How ya doing today? Conference going well for you?

So, I have a question. How many new people have you gone out of your way to meet here? I don't mean the folks who come up looking a bit star-struck and in awe of meeting you. I mean how many people have you walked up to and started a conversation with?

It doesn't need to be about anything really serious. It might be something really mundane like, oh, the food in the buffet line or the quality/quantity of coffee or tea.

It MIGHT be something like "I must have that t-shirt! Where ever did you get it!"

It could be something more direct like "I thought that was a great question you asked in the session on.... can we walk about that idea a little bit?"

I know MANY of you are a little shy walking up and starting a conversation with a complete stranger. Still, maybe step out of the comfort zone a bit and see what happens.

Related to that, I know I tend to sit with laptop open looking something up or reading something or trying to write something, maybe an email or finishing a live blogging post or maybe just get some notes in order. I might suggest this (as one of the things I need to work on myself) - Try not having the laptop open quite so much. Instead of isolating from the activity around you, maybe work for a "pleasant observing face" while sitting with a coffee or tea and look up - actually watch the folks interacting with each other.

I know my "pleasant observing face" sometimes makes me look like I am about to inflict great bodily injury on someone, or some group or people (I am working on changing that, really - terrifying small children without trying is not something I aspire to... really) - and I am strongly suggesting people try and do the same. (Not the bodily injury thing or terrifying small children.) Make yourself available so people don't need to work up more courage to walk up to you than it takes to jump out of a perfectly good airplane with a parachute the first time. You never know who you might meet that way.

One other thing. I know many of you, like me, have friends we get to see in person ONLY at conferences. It is great to catch up with them and laugh and tell jokes and stories and talk about what we're working on now and what is next. The challenge I see is, when you get so wrapped up in who you are with RIGHT THEN, most of us close down the opportunity for other people to approach us.

Make sure there is always room for one more to join the conversation.

Right, That is it for now. Thanks for your time and I'll see you at the next conference.