Thoughts on How to Attend a Conference
I’ve been preparing to attend INFORMS in many of the same ways as my fellow bloggers have – scouring the agenda, reviewing the slides when I’m on the fence about a session (very helpful feature), looking at the Huntington Beach weather forecast, choosing what I’ll read on the plane (important decision – I hate to be without a good book), and thinking mournfully about all the interesting birds I won’t likely have time to see (but I’ll still pack my new binoculars just in case). This kind of preparation is both practical (I hate to be cold) and strategic (all these great minds in one place would be a terrible thing to waste). I put a lot of time into planning the agenda in particular, because if I’ve made a tentative agenda in advance my calendar can tell me what I’d be missing if I get caught up in a great conversation with someone I’ve met. And that’s likely to happen, given all the interesting people who will be attending.
Which brings me to a different kind of preparation than what I normally do. Recently I stumbled on an thought-provoking blog, “How to Attend a Conference As Yourself,” by Peter Bregman. The author writes about how to meet people at a conference, but his advice veers away from standard networking tips and encourages an inward exploration. He thoughtfully addresses the awkwardness many of us feel when we are out of our normal context, in which our role is well defined. At work when you interact others usually your role is clear, because the interaction emerges from that context. At home you may be partner, neighbor, parent, coach, teacher, artist, etc. But at a conference context vanishes and no one knows “who” you are or what your role is. He suggests you see this situation as an opportunity instead of an uncomfortable feeling and try meeting people without relying on a role. Instead of being “somebody” just try being yourself and connecting with others on purely human, personal terms. So I’m going to try this idea on for size, and if I’m asking you personal questions when we meet, now you’ll know why!