Butterflies in the stomach, wondering who you are going to sit next to when you don’t know anyone, if you are going to eat every meal alone as it seems like everyone else has at least a million people they know, imagining what it is going to be like to go up to total strangers, introduce yourself and play networking roulette as you try to make new connections. No, I am not talking about the first day of middle school – next week I am going to attend my first SHRM Annual Conference – and I know no one.
It isn’t that this hasn’t happened before – I remember going to my own association’s (ASAE) annual conference for the first time – I vaguely knew some people from their twitter profiles, but no one in person. And then you have that awkward moment of – I know you from twitter, I mean I don’t KNOW you, I mean I follow you, but not in the creepy kind of way, I mean – can we just start this intro over again? Thinking back on that conference, it is hard to remember what it was like to be a newbie – to try and find places I fit, to seek out those with similar interests so we could learn better together. I think it is hard to remember because that has become in so many ways my community, my professional home.
And next week, I am suddenly a Freshman again – looking for advice about how do I fit in…and there is advice:
- - Wear comfortable shoes (got it – lots of walking, LOTS of walking)
- - Dress comfortably (often said in the same paragraph as It is ridiculously hot outside and bitterly cold in the session rooms, and people wear everything from suits to shorts and t-shirts – so that is clear and straightforward)
- - Spend time on the expo floor meeting vendors – these are your resources and partners
- - Don’t try to get to every session – make a plan before you go
All solid intro advice – and I feel like I have conference experience that will let me learn and develop relationships with potential partners for my organization. As for the networking, social element…I feel like this time around I am going to take a different approach….
Every year we bring new people in – whether it is new employees, or new members at a conference. Create a welcome session or orientation and suddenly they are going to feel part of the community, right? What could we do, what can I do, to make that first-time experience better for all the professionals I serve, for any volunteer group I lead, or for any new-hires to my organization? This is my chance to find out.
Next week I get to go back to square one. I get to be the new ‘kid’ again and take in that experience. What does it feel like? How do I find those colleagues that will be connections beyond the conference? Will I be going to dinner solo? How can a reception with several hundred (thousand?) people lend itself to meeting individuals? What makes the attendee experience work, and what would make it work better?
I am excited to find out – to learn and explore, to take it in and to branch out. And to have those newbie jitters once again – and this time run with them.