So you want to go to a conference, but you are afraid that you don’t know anyone there.

Odds are that you know someone at the conference, its just a matter of finding them.  Of every conference that I’ve attended I can’t think of a single conference where I haven’t found someone that I know from somewhere that I’ve worked.

Some of these conferences can be quite large, shows like TechEd or PDC can easily have over 10,000 attendees, so finding friends may be hard to find.

Now some IT Professionals find it hard to make friends and meet new people at conferences (shocking I know, people who tend to be introverts have problems making friends).  If you find yourself being one of these people I have a few tricks that can help you find friends and make sure that you have a good time at the conference.

In the morning

Skip the hotel breakfast.  Every conference that I’ve gone to provides you with breakfast.  Yes I’m well aware that the hotel breakfast it better than the conference breakfast, but the other attendees are at the conference breakfast.  When you have gotten your crappy conference breakfast, not all of them suck but most seem to. I half think that its so that people have something to talk about over breakfast.  So after you’ve gotten your breakfast from the buffet, its time to find somewhere to sit.  Any table which is empty isn’t suitable for you to sit at either, there must be something wrong with the table that’s why no one else is there.  Find a table that’s got a few people sitting at it, preferably that are already chatting.

When you get to the table, don’t just plop down and start eating.  This won’t get you into the conversation, a quick “Hey is this seat taken?” will get you a moment of face time, and probably a quick “help yourself” or something similar.  As you eat, follow the conversation and interject something useful if you can.  When the conversation lags a little bit, if you the people at the table haven’t become your best friends yet its time to speak up.  I’ve got a couple of questions here to get you started.

“Hey I’m {Your Name}, where are you folks from?”

“I’m planning on catching {Some Session you plan to attend}, what are you looking forward to seeing?”

These should at least get the conversation started.  When talking with people at the conference, keep in mind these people do the same thing for a living that you do so you’ve got something in common right there to talk about.

Lunch Time

Again, you’ll want to head to the conference food hall as this is where almost all the conference attendees are going to be.  The same questions to start the conversation from above apply here.

If this is a day which doesn’t have a planned event that night, I’ve got another important question for you to ask.

“Did you folks have any plans for tonight?”

If they say yes, and it doesn’t sound like a private event ask it anyone can come.  The worst that they’ll say is that it’s a private event.  Odds are you’ll get a yeah sure, it’s at {Some Bar} there are going to be a bunch of us there.

Dinner Time

Now the trick with dinner is that most conference don’t provide dinner, that’s usually up to you.  The best way to find people to have dinner with is to put away your wallet and talk to the vendors.  Someone is going to be throwing a party of some sort, you just need to find it.  These official parties usually don’t last all that late, but they will be full of people to talk to and they will have free food and a couple of free drinks.

The people that you have met at the vendor party will hopefully lead you to the next section.

The after party

There is pretty much always going to be something going on after the official parties.  You can call it a night at any time from dinner, until what ever time the local bars close.

When it comes to SQL PASS the default place to go after the official parties are done is the Tap House on 6th Street in Seattle.  They’ve got a good menu of beers and other drinks, a couple of pool tables and lots of tables.

It has started to become a little more common for the official and even the unofficial parties to be listed on a website somewhere.  For the MVP Summit this year someone put together the website.  For TechEd they put together the website.  When the SQL PASS summit comes around this year, I’m not sure if they will have a website for us or not.  Hopefully PASS will have a sign board or something by the PASS HQ booth where people can post official and unofficial parties that are open to everyone.

If you still aren’t sure how to find a party, look for the speakers.  They’ll have some sort of different badge on, or a flag hanging from their badge.  They should pretty much all know a lot of people, as they’ve probably been coming to the conference for years and they will either know where the after parties will be, because they will be there themselves or they will know who you need to talk to to find out where the parties are.

When you get to your next conference, work on having a good time. You won’t be disappointed if you do.



2 Responses

  1. I will try and get up a after party site for SQL pass this weekend like I have for the MVP Summit, TechEd, Mix, PDC, and others.

    Joseph Guadagno
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