One of the unadvertised splendors of attending conferences and periodic gatherings in any field is running into colleagues from the present and past. In early April, I attended the annual policy confab put together by Southern California Grantmakers. In a total of about 75 minutes of hall crawling during the course of the day, I ran into and engaged in substantive, though understandably brief, conversations with four former Community Partners board members, six foundation heads or senior program officers, a county commission appointee, a key Santa Monica human services manager, and several SCG staffers intent on keeping the conference wheels turning. What a joy it was to see them all, exchange a few thoughts and commit in several instances to future meet-ups.
The longer I spend in the civic life of Southern California, the more I find that the value of the hallway is not just as a thruway from one breakout session to another. Rather, the hallways are where a lot of the after-conference work begins. With that in mind, here are some thoughts on making the most of the next conference you attend when hall crawling from one planned activity to another.
- Intentionally stop and observe a while. Plant yourself comfortably at a busy intersection of bustling attendees, stuff your cell phone into your pocket and watch the experienced hands at work. You’ll see everything from casual greetings, to quick catch-up conversations, to serious, consequential heads-down problem-solving.
- Detach from your “safe” group, the close-knit colleagues you already know. Challenge yourself and them to meet later over drinks and share reports from meaningful meetings – business cards in hand to prove it – and discuss who you met, what interested you about them, and what you were able to help them learn about you and the work you do.
- Note that not everyone disappears into a meeting room or breakout session. Conference veterans often hang almost entirely in the hallways, unafraid of missing the next session in favor of engaging with colleagues and friends.
- If you’re a neophyte, pull aside someone whose hall-crawling skills impress you. Start a conversation with them. Begin with “I’ve noticed you’re particularly adept at connecting with people. I want to get more from gatherings like this, and it seems you do too, so I thought I’d ask if you have any tips.” Most people will be bowled over that you even noticed, let alone asked. You’re bound to have a good conversation no matter who they are if you’re open and genuinely curious to learn.
- Arrange to tag along with someone who knows the conference scene better than you. You’ll get introduced to everyone they run into, have the chance to listen in on what they talk about, and you’ll likely have one more person you’ll recognize as you crawl the halls in the hours or days ahead.
That’s enough for now. I’ve got to make seven phone calls and send emails to follow up with the people I met at the SCG gathering. There’s a whole lot of work still to be done.
"Hallway crowds" by Ontario Library Association (CC BY 2.0)