September 22-25, 2016
SanTan Elegante Conference Center
"The Essential Pre-Conference Packing and Preparation List" by Corey Eridon has a useful list of what to pack and prepare before any conference. "The Programmer's Guide to Networking at a Conference" has lots of great ideas about how to take advantage of the many networking opportunities a conference presents. "The Introvert Guide to Networking" discusses how to network even if you're an introvert. "How do you get the most out of a tech conference?" by Wes Bos presents great tips on making the most of any conference experience.
The Business of Software blog had a great post titled "16 Tips for Connecting with Others at Business of Software". Because some of those items are specific to the Business of Software conference, here is our version of those tips.
Like many conferences, attending Southwest Fox and Southwest Xbase++ is about the people, not the content. The people you meet make the conference. They provide the true value of attending conferences and keep you coming back year after year.
Preparation helps. Don't wait until you arrive to start figuring out who and how you will connect with others. Use these tips to get a head start.
Give others the opportunity to find and connect with you:
Don't wait until the conference starts to begin making good connections. Do some prep work and start early:
Not everyone flies in Thursday and leaves Sunday. Every year, attendees (including speakers) go to dinner together in groups of various sizes on Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday nights. In addition, Saturday night is a "free" night, so many attendees get together in groups for dinner.
Once you arrive at the conference, the magic starts to happen. Get a good rest the night before.
Look friendly and inviting: smile. At a conference of mostly introverts, smiles alleviate nervousness and help us naturally connect with others. If someone smiles at you, consider it an invitation to go up and say hello.
Say hi to the people next to you. The conference badges list our home city, so use those as conversation starters. They also indicate who is attending the conference for the first time, so make a special effort to introduce yourself to them. Try to meet at least one new person at your table at every meal.
Listen to what people say they need or who they're looking to connect with. Take the opportunity to introduce them to someone you know, or someone you just met.
Too shy to introduce yourself? Find a buddy and go around introducing each other to new people. Often it's easier to introduce someone else than it is to introduce ourselves.
Jot down a couple words on the back of that new person's business card to help you remember the connection. Record the topic you talked about, ways you can help each other, or notable aspects about how they look. Use these notes when connecting with that person after the conference. You'll be meeting people for three or more days. Don't rely on your memory.
Set up a search for the #SWFox and/or #SWXbase hashtags and monitor the conversation throughout the conference. Watch what people are talking about and jump into the conversation when you have something to say. Look for activities being scheduled through Twitter to find other opportunities for connecting in a small group setting.
Keep your body language open and inviting. Stand straight with your shoulders back, arms open. You'll not only appear confident and approachable, you'll raise your testosterone and lower your cortisol, helping you to feel less stressed and more in control. Avoid crossing your arms—bring an extra jacket in case you get cold to avoid the stern teacher look.
Share your personal interests and desires. Everyone attending, from the speakers to the person sitting next to you, has a complex set of interests and needs. Deep connections happen when we share our full selves, not just our work selves. Don't focus purely on business. Share your personal passions too.
However, avoid using the person you just met as your therapist. Save your deep emotional turmoil for another time. Aim to make connections, not instant best friends.
When a speaker is talking on stage, listen. Don't have extended side conversations—take those out to the hall. If you have to get a few last words in after a speaker starts, whisper and keep it short.
After you get back, don't let your connections wither. You'll be tired. You'll be inspired with new ideas and knowledge. But take the time to reach out and solidify the connections you made.
Email the people you met and tell them you that you remember them and enjoyed meeting them. Use your notes to reference your conversations. If you were going to send them info or make an introduction, do it. Send them links to any notes or posts you wrote about the conference.
Add the people you connected with to LinkedIn or Facebook. Follow people on Twitter. But keep in mind that not everyone uses every network, and some people only use Facebook for personal use, so don't be offended if the request isn't always accepted.
Use tags in LinkedIn or lists in Facebook to track who you met at the conference and how you might want to follow up in the future.
Summarize your notes from the sessions or your experience at Southwest Fox and Southwest Xbase++ into a blog post you can share with others. Email the link to firstname.lastname@example.org so we can add it to the Links page. Share the link on Twitter using #SWFox or #SWXbase, then post a link on the conference Facebook page.
Hélio Vogas' article How To Transform Your Next Conference Takeaways Into Real-Life Results describes strategies for bringing back the new knowledge and ideas to your team and to your work.