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Can I work a room or can I work a room?
If you’re attending TechDays (or any other tech conference this year), you should keep in mind that while we spend a lot of energy on the presentations and sessions, the opportunity to meet and talk to the other people there is just as important. I’ve observed that some of the most important things I’ve learned at conferences didn’t happen at the presentation, but in the hallways, conversing with the other attendees. This observation is so common that it’s given rise to “unconferences” like BarCamp, whose purpose is to invert the order of things so that the conference is more “hallway” than “lecture theatre”.
It’s especially important to talk to people you don’t know or who are outside your usual circle. Books like The Tipping Point classify acquaintances with such people as “weak ties”, but don’t let the word “weak” make you think they’re unimportant. As people outside your usual circle, they have access to a lot of information that you don’t. That’s why most people get jobs through someone they know, and of those cases, most of the references came from a weak tie. The sorts of opportunities that come about because of this sort of relationship led sociologist Mark Granovetter to coin the phrase “the strength of weak ties”.
The best way to make weak ties at a conference is to work the room. If the phrase sounds like sleazy marketing-speak and fills your head with images of popped collars and wearing too much body spray, relax. Working the room means being an active participant in a social event and contributing to it so that it’s better for both you and everyone else. Think of it as good party citizenship.
Here are some bits of advice for working the room at TechDays, culled from a mix of Susan RoAne’s advice in her books How to Work a Room and Face to Face: How to Reclaim the Personal Touch in a Digital World, Larry Chiang’s article in GigaOm on the topic and my own experiences working the room (which in turn led me to this job and is why you’re reading this blog entry).
I’ll see you at TechDays, where I’ll be doing all of the above!
[This article also appears in my personal tech blog, Global Nerdy.]