Sometimes just getting approval to attend a conference is a challenge, but getting the green light isn’t the only thing you should plan for. Sure, you want to learn some things–but a google search can teach you too. In fact this week we are hearing about new features and functionality from the Ignite event–and I am catching all of it in my bunny slippers.
Why attend a conference then?
Conference season is upon us and Steve and I share some thoughts on why we attend conferences and some of the strategies we have used in the past.
“There is an evolution from the time you go to your first one… after 10 you’re maybe a little bit more of a veteran there. But that doesn’t mean there are still not preparation steps.”
“We should all be looking to get something out of the conference and not just, ‘Well, I want to go there and learn something.’”
“Plan ahead, sign up for what you can ahead of time but also be ready to adapt to the last minute if things change.”
“We want to reach out to these people but we want to be careful about how we approach them and talk about something positive.”
“If you’re just trying to spam people that’s a different objective and you’ll be in a different circle.”
Listen to Learn
02:45 Today’s Topic: Conference Tips and Tricks
03:48 The right mindset in going to conferences
04:27 Find your people
05:11 Connect through social media postings
07:12 Check your plans and papers
10:34 Goals: Why are you attending the conference?
12:13 Finding your people, scenarios of networking with people
16:46 Never dine alone
20:03 Right place, right time, valuable personal interaction
20:35 Meeting Famous People: Do’s and Don’ts
30:02 What to do after the whole conference is over? Whose circle do I want to get into?
*Untranscribed introductory portion*
Carlos: Companeros welcome to another episode, Episode 111. It’s good to be with you today.
Steve: Hey Carlos, this episode is on conference tips and tricks. How are you doing?
Carlos: Hi, I’m doing well. Thank you. Yes, conference season is upon us and everybody is talking about conferences and we figured, hey we have this podcast so why don’t we join the conversation?
Steve: Yup. Alright, but before we jump into that, do we have any companero shout outs?
Carlos: We do. Shout out to Douglas Kemp, he chimed in says, he enjoys the show and normally listens the day they come out. Of course we appreciate, let us know that there is somebody on the other side listening.
Steve: Yup, sounds good. So we also had one from Russell Johnson and he chimed in about Episode 109 on certifications. What he said was one of the things that he uses is the Brain Dump sites sort of the questions that people have remembered or written down or copied from the test to see what he gets wrong. Meaning, he had try them out and see what’s wrong and then he goes and learns it. Part of the point that he made on that was it’s not just about memorizing those one’s that you don’t know. It’s about taking it as an item that you don’t know and you’ve got to go and learn it.
Carlos: Exactly, and that’s always the balance, right? That’s always a tough balance because you just wanted to get to the certification, and sometimes you’re willing to push learning off to the side to make that happen. As you can get that review or get feedback, learning is always good thing and we all need to learn, continue to learn. Ok, so when this episode comes out, of course we are talking about conferences. I’m sure the Companero Conference will come out but you have today, today is the last registration day to register for Companero Conference so you’re kind of a bit close companeros. Let me just say, you haven’t registered yet.
Steve: Sign up now, or forever hold your peace.
Carlos: Forever hold your peace, that’s right.
Steve: Or until next time.
Carlos: Don’t say that, Steve.
Steve: No, we want to people to sign up now and next time I guess what I’m trying to say.
Carlos: There you go. Hey, maybe you’re 2 for 1 special. Ok, there you go. The shownotes for today’s episode are at sqldatapartners.com/conferencetips.
Steve: Or at sqldatapartners.com/111.
Carlos: So ultimately, again as you mentioned our conversation is around preparing for conferences and kind of getting the most out of conferences. I think there is an evolution from the time you go to your first one. And now you have, you know that first few then maybe you get 5 under your belt then you get 10 under your belt. I think after 10 you’re maybe a little bit more of a veteran there. But that doesn’t mean there are still not preparation steps. And as we were going through this and comparing notes before we started recording I think we recognize that there is some changes. Not every conference I’m going to prepare for the same way and some of the outcomes that I’m looking for in a conference are going to vary from year to year even if it’s the same conference.
Steve: Right, and I think the things we cover here, I mean they could apply to any conference whether it’s a weeklong conference that you have to go overseas for or whether it’s a SQL Saturday in your own backyard.
Carlos: That’s right. I think we should all be looking to get something out of the conference and not just, “Well, I want to go there and learn something.” I don’t think we are maximizing the value of the conference if that is all that we’re there for.
Steve: Right, and I would hope that everyone is there to actually get something out of it besides just getting out of the offices as well.
Carlos: Exactly! Oh man. Yeah, because if you have that mindset you’ll probably not listen to this podcast.
Steve: Oh yeah, exactly.
Carlos: Ok so for preparation. Preparation is before the event, when that preparation starts again can vary. But one of the things that I’m looking at, depending on what the conference is, but basically the people that you want to meet. Who is it that you’re looking to interact with? So these could be speakers, so you’re looking over session material and you’re like, “Oh, that’s interesting, I want to chat with that speaker.” But if they are posting social media information it’s basically they’re or connecting with those people who you think will be attending, and that you want to further or connect with or network with at the event.
Steve: Right, and I think part of that social media, the side to figuring out who’s going via the social media is also posting that you’re going and things that you’re doing and other people may reach out to you as well.
Carlos: Sure, for example Companero Conference we’re using the #compaconf just to let people know that you’re there. You may end up on other people’s radar as well. And social media is that great advantage because it allows you to connect with others or find out something about them before you actually get there and potentially even give you something to talk about. Like, “Oh, hey, yeah I saw your Twitter profile and you like to do…” whatever it might be.
Steve: I remember at PASS Summit last year, I posted that I was going and somebody who uses Database Health Monitor and he had been using it for quite a while had reached to me. Wanted to meet up and ask me some questions, so we met up and chatted then I ended up running into him probably four more times just as we crossed paths throughout the rest of the conference.
Carlos: Yeah, that’s an interesting perspective. Of course, we are going to flip it out and kind of look at his perspective, so he is a user of a piece of software. He reached out to the creator of that software and was able to have a conversation with him at a conference. That’s pretty valuable, right? Just a little social media like, “Hey, I’d love to connect.” Now, again, it takes two to tango and not every tweet to all the people are going to go responded to although it is amazing how available some of these people are. But again, kind of putting yourself out there a little bit and trying to connect you will be surprised who you can chat with.
Steve: Oh yeah, everyone is there just like you usually looking for someone to chat with.
Carlos: Exactly. So the next one, checking your plans and papers.
Steve: Oh yeah, this is one, you want to make sure ahead of time you’ve had everything is lined up and ready. And I have a sort of an embarrassing story to share on this. Hopefully it doesn’t prevent me from getting invited to any overseas SQL Satrudays in the future or out of the country SQL Saturdays. But a couple of years ago, it was around the time I was working on the Database Corruption Challenge, and I had plans to go to SQL Saturday in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada which I live just across the border from there and it’s like usually about an hour drive with traffic so I thought, “No big deal. It’s all good.” I want to go and I was a speaker, and I was going up Friday night, and Randolph West who is a friend, he’s been on the show. He and I had a planned to meet up and chat because we knew each other through the Corruption Challenge. I man had the whole weekend booked out with SQL Saturday and dinners and whatnot. It turned out that when I got in my car and I got to the border, the customs official from Canada pointed out that my passport had expired.
Carlos: Wouldn’t let you leave, Steve?
Steve: Wouldn’t let me in, which is interesting because they turn you around at that point and you go back. This sort of this no man’s land between the two borders once you’ve left with the U.S. and/or Canada. I couldn’t get into Canada but then I went back to the U.S. and they gave me even more grief about my passport being expired. But they eventually let me in, and then I had to contact everyone at the event to say, “Guys, I screwed up, my passport expired”, and I didn’t realized it. I didn’t get to go to the event. I didn’t get to meet Randolph that time. I ended up talking with him in a later time, and then Mike fall. He eventually jumped in and did the last minute session to cover the session that I couldn’t do because I was not allowed in the country at that point.
Carlos: Oh man. Yeah, that’s maybe probably an extreme example but I think even like your hotel, summit obviously is the behemoth conference that it is. There are lots of other after parties or events. They have the game event this year, so just making sure that you have those reservations ahead of time because if you wait to the last minute like, “Oh yeah, I’ll kind of wait and see what happens.” The tickets will be gone and then you’ll be left like, “Well, now what do I do?”
Steve: But the flip side of that is if you do wait for the last minute look for things that are coming up and we’ll cover that a little bit later, but plan ahead, sign up for what you can ahead of time but also be ready to adapt to the last minute if things change.
Carlos: And this is kind of a cultural issue almost in our conferences. And I think summit particularly where the number of people that just go. I’m not trying to bad mouth, it’s not negative per se, but a lot of people just go just to hang out. They are not necessarily trying to take away sometimes the same things that we’re going to be talking about here because our next item is goals, right? What is the goal of the conference? Why are you attending? For some people it’s just, I just want to get like a family reunion of sorts. Just get together talk with other and whatever happens happens. For others, that may not be the case. We want to get out with a specific goal. I can actually remember the first summit I went to which I think was 2013 it was in Charlotte, so I’m on the East Coast. Like, hey you have to get down to this East Coast but other than it being summit and everybody kept talking how great it was, I had no purpose in going. That kind of reflected in what I then chose to do at the event because I wasn’t prepared, I hadn’t thought about it. I was king of constantly winging it if you will. You know, again, there are pluses and minuses to that tact and it’s really just kind of more of a cultural fit there.
Steve: Yup. You know that was my first summit as well, and I didn’t have a lot of idea of why I wanted to be there. I know, I’d publish the book on common table expressions just before that and the publisher had a booth there and I did a book signing. But that was really kind of the only non-summit type, I mean the only sort of extracurricular type activity that I did. I didn’t know about all these other events or things to and whatnot.
Carlos: Right. Now, this kind of then comes into the idea of, ok, well so now we’ve prepared or we fail to prepare and we’re now at the event. Now there are two modes of thinking a bit about this so we’re going to take both of them, and one approach is to find your people. So conferences are just getting bigger, right, at least we’re finding, SQL Saturdays I guess that exception. They are kind of that middle conference. We have a unique community there but for the most part conferences are like 5,000+ people. The idea that you’re going to network with 5,000 people over the course of three days is just ridiculous, so you need to find your people. Everyone is not your people. Some years that might change or the subject to the conference might determine who your people are going to be. I know and some cases I’ve had my people, “Hey, I want to get better at public speaking. Let me go find those people.” So the year I launched the podcast it was I need to connect with Microsoft people to get them to be guess on the show so that was what my focus was, connecting with some of those. And I spent probably most of my time in the Microsoft area just waiting for all the PMs and whatnot to come in because I want to introduce myself to every single product managers that was going to be there in that summit.
Steve: I can remember a couple of years ago when I did the Database Corruption Challenge, part of it was all the winners got a t-shirt, database corruption challenge t-shirt. And because a lot of them were from overseas and they were coming the past Summit I thought, well I just meet up with them and just make sure that I drop that off to them while I see them at some point. So sort of finding my people on that one was going out and finding all those participants and it as almost like an Easter egg hunt to find all these people that I had talked with before and say, “I’ll drop you a t-shirt when I see you there.” There’s only ten of them but it was a lot of work to find all ten of those people during the conference.
Carlos: Yes, I bet it was. And another way to do that is to be so bold as to officially organize something. Now we’ve seen people organize and the two that come to mind are Steve Jones and Andy Warren. It seems like they are always planning something and they have some specific niche. Another example is Andy Mallen, who we’ve had on the program as well. I believe it was last year or it may have been a year before but he organized an LGBT event. So again, kind of finding your people and he went so far as to actually throw out and event and say we’re hanging out. So that’s another way to kind of find your people.
Steve: And I think that there are so many things happening and so many people there that no matter what your interest are you’re going to be able to find other people that have similar interest in whatever it is that you’re doing.
Carlos: Exactly. But the idea is you have to decide who those people are going to be and then its effort to go and find them. Some of the other things that we will talk about, it’s fine to just go and kind of row with the flow but then you can’t then knock the conference for not providing what it is that you weren’t looking for when you really didn’t know.
Steve: Oh yeah, yeah, this is an interesting one because I can think of conferences that I used to go to like more than 5 years ago it always seems, like before I didn’t really understood the thing that I’d go to conference and kind of the conference get done and multi-day conference and I’ll always end up in a restaurant by myself or picking up some food, take it back to the hotel room. It was always just sort of like kind of boring at that point in the afterhours. I think that the whole never dining alone, there are so many opportunities to meet up with other people who are probably going to be dining alone as well and just get to know them a little bit. And I think like back you mentioned Steve Jones, and Andy Warren, last year they had just a dinner event where you show up and you meet people and they get like a group of six people together and everyone is going off to dinner together, and it was a lot of fun. I got to meet some people that I probably would have not met if it hadn’t been for that but it really sort of changes what you get out of the conference because you just get exposed to more people.
Carlos: A great example for me was I was at Ignite down at Atlanta. I was eating, met some folks down and say, “Hey, can I sit here?” Trying to strike a conversation and it just so happen most of them were getting up to leave as I was sitting down. So it was me and this other fellow, and then Lora Rogers who you may know. She is a SharePoint person she is very active in that community sits down at the table. I didn’t know her. We strike up a conversation, she is there, she wants to connect with other people. She is like, “Hey, can I sit with you?” You know, we start talking about SharePoint and I knew that I wanted to have a conversation on SharePoint and so I said, “Hey, are you interested in talking with me on my podcast about SharePoint?” And she said, “You know what I don’t think I’m the best person for that.” But she introduced me to Todd Klindt, and that’s how, and he came on the program and we had a great discussion with him. And so it was very interesting that again just in that conversation the connections that can be made if you’re willing to go out and then say hello and talk a little bit about yourself.
Steve: Yup, absolutely. And I think that the worst feeling at a conference I think is to be at that table by yourself or to be sit down at a table and realized that nobody at the whole table is talking. I always like to kind of break the ice a little bit and just say, “Hi, I’m Steve. Who are you?” and just get things going. It doesn’t always work but it helps a lot. Yeah, that’s the predicament wherein we’re mostly kind of introverts so nobody wants to go out on that But the reality is that most of us are scared to death. We sit down on that table, “Hi, I’m Carlos.” You know, it’s like, what’s going to happen now? And you have to embrace that awkwardness and as you mentioned it doesn’t always work out. But that’s ok because when it does it’s really nice.
Carlos: And I guess that kind of leads us into right place, right time. I feel like this is a little bit the opposite of finding your own people, and maybe not the opposite but instead of planning and trying to find people this is more of the happy accident.
Steve: Oh yeah, and I think you’re going to run into people you know or people that you want to know that you would maybe never run into anywhere else. Like PASS Summit I think was last year I ran into a friend from Australia that I’d known online and through when I came back to the Corruption Challenge originally but I’d known, but we’d never actually really met in person before that. We got to sit down and talk business for like an hour and a half at the PASS Summit. We didn’t talk about technology at all. It was all about the consulting business, and it was the right place, the right time and hadn’t been plan we just bump into each other and sat down and chatted and it was awesome.
Carlos: Yeah, that’s right. So sometimes you have to know when to embrace that opportunity. It could come with a sponsor or with a speaker with another attendee, and so yet always tough to gage but if both of you are getting value on that conversation and it continues to go, you know, let that moment marinate for a little bit because getting to it would be very very difficult.
Steve: I think that so often at the conference it’s all around the schedule and getting that next session. I think that used to be the way I was but I’ve found that it’s always better to, unless it’s a session that you’re speaking at obviously or one that you really want to go to. It’s always better to maybe go in late or skip a session if there’s some personal interaction there that’s valuable because, I mean, you can always watch a recorded session earlier.
Carlos: That’s right, so the learning part is still available, right, that connection part may not be available again. Now when I met people, one of the things that I like to do, and I don’t do it for everybody. If you don’t see me viewing your profile don’t feel bad. But one of the things I like to do after I meet somebody and particularly one that I think I want to follow up with is then either connecting with or at least viewing the profile of that person on LinkedIn. One of the things I like about LinkedIn is it keeps that history. I can tell who, like where I was been and who’s looked at me so it makes that connection a little bit easier. I don’t think we get that same ability like on Facebook or on Twitter unless we’re going to follow them which again is another option. But with the information that’s available on LinkedIn I can know a bit more about that person from a business perspective which is generally what I am more focused on.
Steve: Yup. Yeah, and I think that connection so that you have a way to follow up later if you need can be incredibly valuable.
Carlos: That’s right. I guess I wouldn’t hesitate to follow people. Like, oh yeah we had conversation with that person, let me follow, and then again we’ll get to the after the conference we can make changes there.
Steve: But I think part of the worst case on that is when you connect with someone and they’re just pure marketing. Yeah, and they sort of just launch into you with their ad campaign and buy, buy, buy. I mean, that’s the wrong way to do it I think.
Carlos: That’s right. That’s always rough. In a that’s going to happen, you know, the value, the up side is so much bigger than a couple of people trying to spam you because you can always just disconnect with those people.
Steve: That’s true.
Carlos: You know, don’t limit your chances, which is going to happen, and again you just have to understand because it’s a social medium you’re going to have interactions that and not all of them are going to be exactly what you want. Another one, so putting work aside again can be tough particularly with a long conference particularly like summit. You’re going to do precons, that can be whole week. So checking in a certain time maybe put them in the schedule can be something but if you’re trying to balance the two you’re just hurting yourself in my mind.
Steve: Oh yeah, couple of examples there, I remember last year at PASS Summit we had a podcast recording that was scheduled and partway through the day I left, came back to my hotel room and we did the recording but that was something that I probably could have pushed off for a couple of days until we were done. But those kinds of things happen. The other thing I remember is a friend of mine at the conference. I saw him once and I didn’t see him ‘till like the end of the week, and I said, “Where you’ve been?” And he’s like, “Oh, but we’re having troubles back at the office.” And I’ve been pretty much the whole conference I’ve been in my hotel room working. And I just thought, wow, ok. I mean, obviously you got to deal with the issues that come up back home but hopefully you can get enough in place so you don’t have to do that because at that point the whole conference is kind of a waste.
Carlos: Right, and it’s funny, so there’s system down issues. That’s probably you can’t neglect but if your company has paid for you to go to the conference put your oath of office email on, right? I mean push back a little bit on that. Unless you get the “Thou shall do this”. It’s ok to say, you know what, yes I understand you having that problem I’ll come back to it. You have to say it nicely but put the tales out there so that they know, “Hey, I’m at this conference I’m trying to learn. I have the following goals associated with this conference. If it’s urgent enough to take me away from the goals that I’m working on right now then escalate, I’ll be happy to help you. Otherwise, try to push it off, and then the last piece that we have or topics for during the event is this idea of meeting famous people.
Steve: Hoo, how exciting.
Carlos: Yes, so more than likely and summit is again using that conference we have the superstars of the SQL Server community, and you’re going to bumped into them. So what do you do?
Steve: Or what don’t you do?
Carlos: What don’t you do, yes, maybe we will just start with that and admittedly this goes back, I’m remembering because I think this was probably now that I think about it, so Kendra Little published a post and this was probably just before the 2013 conference because I was reading about going to the conference and what to expect. You know, Kendra is one of those people that people would recognize and know the name. And she wrote an article about people coming up to her conferences and of course she has been putting out all this content but people will come up to her and just kind of say the weirdest things like, “You were shorter than I thought you were” or “Your hair is longer than I thought it would be” or whatever, right? And it’s like, huh. Now obviously we recognize or we feel like we know those people because they put out content. We read their blogs. We watch their videos. We feel like maybe we’re friends, and that’s fine and that’s great. We want to reach out to these people but we want to be careful about how we approach them and talk about something positive. You wouldn’t just go up to a stranger and say, “Wow, you are a lot shorter than I thought you would be.” To role reverse for a minute, that’s what you are, you are stranger and they are trying to make a connection, and if you insult them not a way to make connections.
Steve: Yeah, that’s interesting. I know I mean there are times that I’ve been to conferences and I think, “Oh, wow, I’ve seen that person online or on Twitter or whatever and I’ve been kind of like a little bit afraid to approach them.”
Carlos: Right. And we are all are, right?
Steve: Yeah, and I think that don’t be afraid but don’t be like super interrupting either.
Carlos: Exactly, and don’t expect to get an hour. You walk up to somebody and don’t expect him to hang out with you for the next hour. I think this goes back a little bit to the right time, right place. As you may just have to find a person at a point where they’re willing to socialize, right? If they are trying to get to a session for example all you may be able to do is say, “Hey, I’m Carlos. I love your stuff. Thank you for… it’s great to meet you.” That’s all you’ll get and then maybe in some other opportunity you’ll to do it a bit longer. I think some of those more social times. Again if you happen to find someone with an empty seat for a meal those are great times because that person is kind of bound at that point, and you can take your conversation in different places potentially.
Steve: Yup. Oh yeah, so then after the event and you’ve just come home, maybe you’ve recovered with some extra sleep in a day or two. What do you going to do next?
Carlos: Yeah, so this is I think where the most valuable nuggets come in. And of course the learning is important and we want to have goals and things that we will implement in our environments particularly for technical conferences. But one of the things I like to think about is, and again think about it from an outsiders perspective is whose circle do I want to try to get in to. Right, so assuming that I’ve reached to people on social media before, I’ve tried to find my people at the conference, now I’ve had interactions with them. If you haven’t had an interaction with them then you can just cross those people off your list. The idea of then getting into their circle now after the conference is not going to happen. But if you’ve had those interactions with your people, “Ok, now who do I want to keep with”, and then the idea of, “Ok, how do I lunch this conversation?” What things did we talk about at the conference, like the reference or maybe what additional questions do I have that would help begin the conversation.
Steve: Right, and with that I think though you always want to make sure that you’re respectful and you do it tactfully.
Carlos: You know, that’s right. And so I guess I’ve phrased that in a way of questions. What can I ask them? It’s the opposite of, “Hey, we met. I’m a great guy and I can do all these things and here is my résumé. What do you think about this?” That won’t help either. But it’s engagement process, asking the questions, “Hey, do you remember me?”
Steve: Yeah. “No, no, who are you, Carlos?”
Carlos: Then again if you can gage, you get one email, then you go for the second email. Again, how do I engage in a community, their community? When could we next interact? Things like that. Maybe it’s commenting on a blog or on a LinkedIn article or whatever it might be just to continue the engagement.
Steve: Yup, but not in a stalkery or spammy kind of way whatsoever.
Carlos: You know, that’s right. I mean, if you’re talking about establishing a relationship and getting inside of circle. If you’re just trying to spam people that’s a different objective and you’ll be in a different circle, right? In the do not contact file.
Steve: Yeah, and I remember one from awhile ago where somebody made contact. They had some technical questions, I helped them out. And the next thing you know, every tweet pumping their product was mentioning me on Twitter just trying to sort of call me out to get access to the handful of followers that I have. I thought, wow that really turned ugly fast.
Carlos: Block, right, you know.
Carlos: Yeah, that’s unfortunate. I guess we should remember right, that we are using social medium, we’re going to have interactions that we don’t care for. But we shouldn’t try not to have them because the upside is just too valuable, too great.
Carlos: Anyway, companeros those are our ideas for conference preparations. Some experiences we’ve had along the way. Of course we have conference season is upon us and for those who are coming to the Companero Conference we hope that you’ll apply a little bit of this. We’re going to be doing some different things as far as the social component just from an organization perspective. In year one we don’t have a great way of putting out all the social information before hand but we will be creating a channel in the SQL Server community workspace in Slack to help communicate and some other things like that. We hope that you’ll continue to reach out and start chatting with other attendees. If you’re at the summit or any of the other conferences of course come up and say hello to us. We would love to engage and connect with you.
Steve: Yeah, we’re not famous enough yet to be completely overwhelmed by people saying “Hi”. So just come up and say “Hi” and tell us who you are and how you’ve come to know us?
Carlos: That’s right. But if you say, “Hey, that bald spot is a little bit bigger than I thought it would be”, you can just. Not the best opening line. Let me just throw that out there.
Steve: I’ll send those people your way, Carlos.
Carlos: Thanks, Steve. Ok, as always, companeros we want to hear from you. You can let us know. On our podcast page, we had a couple of engagements there. We haven’t had anybody lately. You can actually leave a message. We’ll probably introduce a new segment next week. We might try to a little bit more. The shownotes for today’s episode will be at sqldatapartners.com/conferencetips.
Steve: Or at sqldatapartners.com/111.
Carlos: And as always, you can reach out to us on social media. You can connect with me, I’m on LinkedIn @carloslchacon.
Steve: And I’m on LinkedIn @stevestedman and we’ll see you on the SQL trail.