(This is the second in a three-part series on the Hallway Track from Pathable.)
A first-time attendee to a conference can be overwhelmed with the opportunities. Today’s sessions are so well-designed and mapped, but the real value lies outside of the sessions in something commonly referred to as the hallway track. In the previous post (Preparing for the Hallway Track), I mentioned how a little preparation goes a long way to accomplishing your conference goals. Yet as a newbie, the conference experience and getting the most value from the peripheral conversations and connections made, can be daunting. Below you’ll find some suggestions on how you can maximize your conference attendance.
1. Become part of the hallway patrol. Now that you’ve done the preliminary work, learn to work the hallway. If you want to be part of the hallway track and get the most from the in-between session conversation, you must be present in the hallway.
Walking through with your head stuck in your phone or tablet checking emails, will not yield results. Make eye contact. Be courteous. Listen to conversations and interrupt politely to join the conversation. Use your preliminary research on those you wanted to meet to enter the conversation gracefully.
2. Know this is not school. While most tracks and sessions are well-planned and scheduled, there may be gaps where nothing interests you. Don’t feel obligated to sit in a session that doesn’t apply to your goals for the conference. Head to the hallway track and start a conversation. No one in the hallway? Try the other hangouts – book store, food, exhibit floor, even the hotel lobby for interesting goings-on.
3. Grow big ears (or eyes). Just as some of the most interesting conversations take place outside of sessions, some invitations for connecting come out of the conference feeds and online communities. Watch for meet-ups and notifications of informal get-togethers. Many times there’s an open call that goes out on these social channels that you won’t find in the conference brochure. I attended one at ASAE13 and had some of my best networking time. It was laid back and casual and thoroughly enjoyable.
4. Create your own hallway. The hallway track does not always take place in a hallway. Yes, there are great conversations that occur in-between sessions (in the hallway), but there are also great conversations in the elevator, at the hotel bar, even on the shuttle from the airport. Striking up a conversation (with conference attendees) is easy. My go-to question is “What session surprised you the most?” or if sessions haven’t begun yet, “What are you most looking forward to?”. Conference attendees are excited to be there. They will always have an answer for these questions.
5. Take your gingko. Meeting and connecting with people is what makes conferences so valuable but if you can’t remember the conversations you’ve had, you’ll never be able to turn them into deeper connections. When you have these serendipitous meetings and exchanges take note of them. If you can remember specifics and bring them up in conversation again, you’ll make an impression.
Bring the hallway into the session. Part of mastering the hallway track is being present in the hallway, but you can also bring the hallway into the session. Conferences can be exhausting and sometimes people are just looking for a little peace and quiet. If possible, enter session rooms fifteen to twenty minutes before the session begins. Here, you’ll either have access to the speaker making last minute adjustments to technology and/or people looking for a quiet space. Either way striking up a meaningful conversation with a few people in a quiet room is so much easier than trying to navigate your way through the teaming hallway.
I’ve provided my suggestions for making the most of your conference experience as a first-timer. What have you found to be effective? Leave a note in the comments. I’d love to hear them.
(Photo by Adopt a Negotiator)