I’ve been to over 25 technology and WordPress related events in the last 5 years, and I can say hands down my favorite part of any event is talking with people. Every single person has an interesting story to tell, and things for me to learn. The problem is that most conferences have more people than I could realistically have a solid conversation with. Here are some tips for having a quality networking experience at a tech conference.
Get on a Social Network, and Probably Slack
While WordPress has a pretty decent representation on Facebook and LinkedIn, I’m going to suggest Twitter has the widest usage amongst WordPress folk. I recommend getting on there. You don’t have to tweet if you don’t want to, just watch and listen.
You can see who other people follow on Twitter. When you see someone who seems to be heavily involved in community or development, or whatever you’re interested in, see who THEY are following, and follow some of those people.
Slack is a chat application. It’s available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, as well as Android and iOS. The Make WordPress team has a wonderful presence there. Joining is free, and I very highly recommend it.
Make a “Before Conference” Plan
Most WordCamps publish a list of attendees before the event. Here’s the list for WordCamp US 2016, you should be able to find me on it. Check out the list and see if there are any people you’ve always wanted to meet and have a conversation with. You’ll note that twitter handles are often published as well, feel free to tweet at people ahead of time and say something like “Hey, we’re both going to be at WordCamp X, I’d love to shake your hand!”
Go with The Flow
While you’re at WordCamp or another tech conference, talk to as many people as you can. This keeps in mind that perhaps you’re an introvert, and “as many as you can” might be 3. Or 2. For introverts it can be healthy to seek out other introverts and sit quietly together not talking much.
You made a “Before” plan, but don’t cling to it so tightly that you spend the whole camp hunting for specific people and never talking to the ones right next to you.
Get people’s information so you can get back to them later. For some people this means cards. For me, I ask for twitter handles, and add them, and send them a tweet while we’re standing there together. Whatever you need to do, do it.
Be a Good Person
Be conscientious of other people’s needs. Just because you want to meet them at WordCamp doesn’t mean they want to meet you. Watch and listen for cues, especially if you’re a man approaching a woman. Conferences are famous for terrible experiences for women. Don’t be that man.
Be aware that other people may want to meet you. Treat them like you’d want to be treated if you approached someone else.
Don’t be clingy. When you finally meet someone you’ve admired for a long time, it can seem like you already know them, and they’re already your friend, so of COURSE you’re going to hang out together all weekend. Some people are into that, and would love a new friend all weekend, but some aren’t. Again, watch for those cues.
Introduce People To Each Other
I was once talking to a brand new friend at WordCamp and she gasped and said “I think that’s PIPPIN WILLIAMSON over there!”
I said “Great, let’s go talk to him.”
“I wouldn’t know what to say!” she exclaimed.
“I’ll introduce you, it’ll be fine,” I said.
We went over, and I introduced her. Note: in this case I knew Pippin, but this works even if you don’t know the person.
I started a conversation with Pippin, drew my new friend into it, and then worked my way out of the conversation. They went on to have a wonderful talk, and I went and got a T-shirt from WP Engine.
Later I myself had a wonderful conversation with both of them about that first conversation. Everyone got to network and interact and I got a T-shirt.
After the Conference
Follow up with people via whatever method they prefer. Send them a tweet, a Facebook note, or whatever. If you’re both on Slack, have a brief conversation with them.
Many introductions made at WordCamp turn into long term friendships, but some don’t. Feel it out, and don’t feel compelled to force anything.
Keep in mind that friendships are the best kinds of relationships to form at WordCamp. You might be there for business, looking to hire or be hired, or find a business partner, but all of those things start best with a friendship.
Be real, be transparent, be honest, and be NICE. And start shaking hands and taking names.