A few weeks ago, I went to New Orleans for Collision Conference. I only knew two people at the event, which was perfect, because my goal was to blend in with the crowd and learn about funding my company and hiring talented people.
The conference was massive. With 20,000 people and a ton of booths, I parked my ass in a chair and spent most of my time watching the keynote speakers on the main stage. I didn’t spend nearly enough time networking, which sucks because Collision tries to make relationship-building a little easier by creating open spaces and inviting attendees to party and drink at after-hour events.
Networking at conferences is tough stuff. Even for a seasoned veteran like me, it’s difficult to walk into a place where I don’t rank and start a conversation with a total stranger. Also, I know that most of the significant action at conferences happens at offsite meetings and dinners. I wasn’t at those dinners because I don’t rank in the technology industry. (It’s not imposter syndrome if it’s true, y’all.) So, it was a weird feeling to know that I was firmly planted all day long with the cattle and the riff raff.
I started thinking about the upcoming SHRM conference in June. I won’t be there, but I would do that conference entirely differently in 2017 versus a few years ago. I used to publish party lists, a tradition that was carried on by Jessica Miller-Merrell, but nobody liked having their private events posted on my website. But if I were invited to a fancy party in 2017, I would try to bring someone new.
Maybe I’d grab that person out of a coffee line. Maybe I’d find someone eating lunch alone or looking at her phone. I’m not sure. But I would ask that person to be my guest whether or not I had permission to bring a +1. I would figure out the details later.
I would also attend fewer of those snobby dinners and try to create my own party. Why participate in someone else’s marketplace when there is such an emotional and economic benefit from being friendly to strangers? People are well connected and surprisingly generous when you ask them to participate in something fun. If you’re going to the annual SHRM Conference & Exposition, think about how you can make your own spontaneous fun and invite others to join you.
I don’t mind being an anonymous conference-goer and sticking to the script, but the Collision Conference was a little lonely towards the end of the show. When I call something lonely, you should know that I spend ten hours each day alone and in relative silence with my cats. Then my introverted husband comes home, and we watch television during dinner. I don’t get very lonely in life. In fact, I crave quiet time to process and reflect on life.
But there’s something about being an individual in a crowd that gets to me, and I know it gets to some HR conference attendees, too. So, if you see someone who needs a friend at SHRM, make a friend. If you’re going to a party, bring someone new. And don’t forget to post photos. I want to see you having fun. That’s what these conferences are all about!