I haven’t been to a Tableau Conference (yet) so for specific tips you might rather want to head over to Sarah’s blogs. I do attend all kinds of smaller events though and while the scale is different, the fundamentals of meeting people still apply!
There are two main things to do, which I found make a huge difference in how you perceive an event.
If you want to give it a name, you could call it “networking” but I like to think about it as just meeting people. Pre-schoolers in kindergarten don’t network, they meet friends! And like a pre-schooler on her first day, at most of these events (and #TC18) you probably don’t know the majority of people. You could just accept that, spend three days alone in a corner and go home or you can have a great time with everybody else who is in the exact same position!
You might go with your colleague or even the whole team. Maybe your friend will be there as well. That’s great because you will never be alone!
But you won’t meet anybody else!
If you hang around in groups, none of you has a reason to talk to people they don’t know yet and most people will avoid approaching a group which looks like they are all together.
Try to separate from the group, go to sessions on your own or make a conscious effort to approach other people.
At the last Tableau event I went to, the keynoter speaker had us discuss something with our neighbour. I sat next to my colleague so the most obvious reaction was to talk with her. It was the easy solution because I didn’t have to talk to the stranger who sat on my other side. But it was also a missed opportunity because who knows what I could have learned from them? Being comfortable often prevents you from learning new things! At the same talk, a friend of mine found his “buddy” for the day and they ended up doing some of the other sessions together.
I won’t lie to you, it will be awkward at times! I am for example happy to talk on a stage in front of people but put me in a room where I don’t know anybody and I will just awkwardly walk around, pretend I know what I am doing until at some point somebody approaches me and starts talking. I just feel weird making the first contact but I still put myself out there because it is better to have an awkward 15 minutes than it is to just hang around in your room!
If somebody asks you to join in for something and you are tempted to say “no”, think about it a second time and about what could happen if you did it anyway.
Common sense applies here! If you don’t like the person, if it’s illegal, if it sounds inappropriate or if you just have a bad feeling with this, don’t think a second time, just say no!
If your genuine excuses are something along the lines of “I would like to but I don’t know any of the people / I have never done that before / actually I planned to have dinner in my room and watch a movie”, consider joining in anyway. Especially if it’s slightly out of your comfort zone it’s easy to find an excuse but you will miss out on so many great interactions and funny stories to tell!
Whenever I applied those two strategies, I ended up having great time. Maybe you are tired the next morning (or hungover?), you didn’t finish that one email or the presentation that is due next week but you will have met a bunch of interesting people, ate good food, did something you have never done before, went to a cool place, etc.
If you happen to walk past me at #TC18, say hello, if you want to meet up, just send me a message on Twitter! By now you know that I am sort of shy…sometimes. Check out the Braindates in the TC app, they look like a great way of meeting others and be sure that everybody there will probably feel similarly awkward like you do!