There’s nothing quite like connecting with people in person. The more time spent online networking, sharing, and filtering, the more I crave the in-person approach. That’s one reason I love attending conferences, workshops, and seminars. (Plus the fact that input is one of my strengths, so I’m a nut for learning new things and collecting ideas.)
But with technology becoming such an important part of many live learning experiences, it can be hard to find the right mix between learning, meeting people, and keeping your eye on the virtual buzz.
I’ve developed a few tactics to help balance the pressures of digital with the opportunities of in-person using some great tools – some you’ve probably heard of, and others that may have slipped past your radar.
1) Getting up to speed: Laptop
I’m sure some will disagree with this approach, but I am armed and ready with my MacBook at every conference I attend these days. Sure, you can keep up on a smartphone and watch the Twitter hashtag for great conference nuggets, but that’s what everyone else is doing! And you can reap major networking rewards by being able to keep the pace with note taking as fast as your fingers will type as long as you’ve got the right tools. Not only do you retain more valuable nuggets and have the ability to capture your own action items on ideas you’re hearing, chances are, people will notice your diligence. Network payoff? People (you know, the ones with the iPhones?) will ask you to e-mail notes from a particular session, a great lead-in to future networking opportunities. A great way to get through the gatekeeper at a future date, i.e., “I noticed you attended xyz conference I also went to, and thought you might enjoy my executive summary of this session.”
2) Getting Plugged In
Want to be the center of attention at a tech or media-related conference? Be the buddy with a power strip. At last year’s Blog World conference, the seats went fast near any attendee who pulled out a power strip that could plug into the awkwardly placed outlets and offer much-needed power connection. Lots of thankful business cards were exchanged, and I’ll wager a few true friendships formed over power strips (Shoutout toMrs. Natalie, one of many great folks I met over the mutual need to sit next to the power-strip-enabled!)
3) Master the Hashtag: TweetGrid, TweetDeck, etc.
If there’s not a Twitter hashtag for the conference, be the hero who coins it! Share the hashtag with conference leaders (who for non-tech conferences may be completely unaware) and see if they’ll announce it formally.
With larger conferences were attendee size keeps you from really having time to absorb the constant flow of Tweets, it’s hard to keep pace, and you can lose the real live learning experience by getting too caught up in the Twitter universe. Sound familiar? My solution is to use Tweet Grid, a web-based tool, and set up a Twitter Party so that I can in one screen follow the hashtag, the key conference organizers and official Twitter handle, as well as see any replies to my tweets.
You can use another tool like Tweetdeck for similar functionality. I really enjoy being able to split my screen between the Twitter Party and my conference notes so I can copy great quotes and Tweets straight from either source.
4) Maximize the Hashtag: What the Hashtag
Want to take things to the next level? Use a site called What the Hashtag to get some really wonderful tools you can use for a variety of functions. This site aggregates all the conversation around hashtags, which is another fun way to follow who’s saying what. But, it also has some fantastic added tools you can use to discover influencers, archive the conversation, and more.
First, search the site to see if your conference hashtag already has a profile on the site.
If it doesn’t, you’ll want to create one, another great resource to share with conference organizers and attendees. It will create an easy-to-share URL for people, for example, http://wthashtag.com/getsocial, the page I made for a recent conference I had the pleasure to attend. This page will show recent tweets, top users tweeting that hashtag, and more goodies, like the ability to sign in to download a transcript of the conversation for a specific date.
5) Become the Connector: Transcript Plus TweepML
So, here’s where we get into the really fun part, where the combination of all these tools can really come together to help you not just follow the conversation, but to easily and powerfully get the most out of the mega virtual networking opportunity, too.
From the What the Hashtag page for the conference hashtag, click on the tab “View Transcript.” Then, you’ll be taken to a separate webpage where all the comments are displayed, along with the name of all Twitter users who shared on that hashtag. Here’s where the real magic begins, because now you have a web page with users you can refer to.
Now, you can use a site called TweepML to automatically create a list of Twitter users who are all listed on that one URL. Simply log into TweepML and double check to see if there’s already a list on the hashtag.
If there’s not, create one. Then, it’s a simple process to set up your list, starting with copying and pasting the URL from your What the Hashtag page into the top box labelled “Find users on this link (optional).” Then, hit “Find” and it will automatically generate a list of Twitter users from your hashtag. You can repeat this action with other web pages that list conference attendees’s Twitter handles, such as a page with the Twitter handle of each speaker, or a user’s Twitter list of notable conference attendees. Get creative, and add as many people to your list from the conference as possible.
Name your list with the conference hashtag if it’s available, and if not, cultivate the list so you can name it accordingly. For example, at last year’s Blog World, instead of creating a master list of users, I created a list of top people I met personally at the conference so it was more personalized to my experience.
Then, create a compelling description and use keywords so that your list is easily findable in the TweepML search. Finally, hit “Generate TweepML,” and your list will be created.
The great thing about this TweepML list is that allows you to select which users from the list you’d like to follow. Then, you can authorize the site to connect with your Twitter account and automatically follow each user from the list you select to add with the click of a button.
Now, kick the master networking into gear by sharing this TweepML list with other conference attendees so they can expand their network as well. Not only is this helpful tool a popular thing for conference attendees to share, it’s also a great way to cultivate your reputation as a connector.
Bonus: Measure Your Connection Quotent
Sounds like a lot of work, right? This can be done easily within the course of one conference. In fact, I recently put this entire process into place at the half day GetSocial unconference here in Oklahoma City that was hosted by OKC blogger palJessica Miller-Merrill. Not only did it help me personally gain a great amount of insight and networking, it also generated 4,435 follows on Twitter. That’s right. I can see the result of all that effort in the fact that over 4,000 digital connections were made. Talk about fulfilling!
So, there you have it. An inside scoop on some of my favorite tactics for connecting at conferences. What are your favorite tools, tips, or secrets for getting the most out of attending live learning? Share them in the comments section!
If you enjoyed this post, I’d love it if you’d share it in your favorite social network or leave me a comment! Happy connecting!