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Conferences and the Etiquette of Meeting New People November 25, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Perceptions.
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One of the reasons I like user group conferences is meeting new people in my “area” – these people at the conference not only like technology and probably some of the same technology I do but, as they are at a conference, are probably inclined to learn stuff, meet people and maybe share ideas. I’m not actually very good face-to-face socially with people I do not know, so I like to tilt things in my favour if I can!

But sometimes you have odd experiences.

I was at a conference a couple of years back that was not in the UK. I was loving it as I was meeting some people I knew electronically but never met and others who I had only met when they visited UK conferences – but most people I had no real connection to, so I was a bit quiet (yes, loud-mouthed, always-comments-in-talks me was quiet), especially as it was the first day. I was late for the lunch event, I don’t remember why, but it was a little unusual for being a sit-down meal and there was to be some meet-the-expert tables and I wanted to be able to identify some people I knew by name and never met. The big signs on tables would be a bit of a help there.

As I came in I saw half the tables were full and most of my friends were already on a full table. I wandered over to a half-full table and as I sat down I said “Hello, I’m Martin Widlake, How you doing?” or whatever to the half-dozen guys there. They all looked at me. A couple nodded or said “hi” but one said “We’ve got other friends turning up soon”. Hmm, that was code for “sod off”, I think.

I turned on the full English Accent so they could tell I was not from around those parts. “That’s nice – always good to have friends when you are at a conference….especially one where you don’t know many people?”. Some smiled, they all understood my mild reprimand. Mr Friendly who had mentioned all his other friends did not smile though. After this opening “chat” no one else really said anything more to me.

The Starter turned up and the guys all spoke to each other – and ignored me. Some other lone gun wandered up and asked me if he could sit next to me – “Sure, feel free – I’m Martin Widlake, I’m from the UK”. He introduced himself and sat down. Mr Friendly piped up “There are more people joining us at this table, I’m not sure there is gonna be room”. Some of his already-present friends had the decency to look a bit apologetic and I simply said “Well, it’s pretty full on all the tables now – and he’s got his starter” as the waitress put down a plate. And I pointedly started talking to the new chap.

Main turns up and so do a couple of late members for Mr Friendly’s group, who sat down at the remaining spare seats. “I told you” he said “you might have to move”.

I’m losing my patience a bit now. “Well they can sit somewhere else I’m sure, seeing as they are late.”

Mr Friendly is getting angry “I warned you when you sat down – when the others turn up, you’ll move”.

“I won’t move, this is my seat. I’m staying here”.

“Who the hell do you think you are?” demands Mr Friendly. Oh, thank you, I think to myself. I’m so going to enjoy this….

“Well, I did introduce myself when I arrived and….” pointing to the large sign with ‘Martin Widlake’ on it above the table “there is a large reminder of my name just there”. I paused a couple of seconds before adding “So this is my seat and my table and I’m kind of obliged to stay here, whether you want to talk to me or not”.

Maybe I could have handled the situation better from the start and stressed that the reason why I was staying was I was supposed to sit at my table. But I was smarting a little from the fact that no one apparently wanted to come to my table and talk to me. Maybe not surprising, as I don’t think I had done a presentation at the conference at that point – but my massive ego was already bruised.

So what about the etiquette of meeting people at conferences? It was just a title for a story I felt like telling…

However, there are a couple of things I do want to mention about the etiquette of meeting people at conferences. If you do not know many people there – just talk to people. People you don’t know. Just make a few observational or open comments, nothing to direct – “This queue for the coffee is a bit long”, “Have you seen any good/bad presentations yet?”, “what do you think about ansii join syntax” (OK, last one is a bad suggestion). Most people will respond and those that do not are probably just very nervous – more nervous than you! – and almost no one will be like Mr Friendly above. And if they are like Mr Friendly, where there are a few hundred other people you can go and try the odd comment on to see if you get a response.

At the social events you can see dozens and dozens of people just at the side or wandering around, not speaking to anyone. If you are one of them, few people are likely to come up to you and start a conversation (I’ve tried approaching the odd lone person but I stopped when I got Seriously Stalked at one of the UKOUG conferences). But if you go talk to other people, most of us will respond. And if someone does respond – Don’t stalk them!!! – have a conversation and then, having found it is possible, go and try some other people. The next day, if you see the people who responded last night, go and have a small chat again. But Don’t stalk them!!!.

Finally, talk to the presenters. We are actually the easy targets and not the hard ones. Those of us who present tend to be attention seekers so we are happy for you to come up and chat. And if you pretend you liked our talks we will certainly warm to you, so it’s an easy opening. However, it’s not like we are pop-stars or TV celebrities, we are just average people and you can come and chat to us (actually, I feel the same about pop-stars and TV celebrities, I don’t get easily star-struck but I know a lot of people do, even over Oracle Names).

But Don’t stalk them!!!.

And if someone insists on joining you at a table that has a name above it – listen carefully when they introduce themselves…

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Comments»

1. gbalda - November 25, 2014

Are you talking about February 2012?

mwidlake - November 27, 2014

I shall neither confirm nor deny dates, locations, names, companies, user groups or pets. 🙂

I might be a miserable, bad-tempered, self-opinionated old git but I’m slowly learning not to identify the target of my ire – unless I am *really* ire’d .

gbalda - November 27, 2014

Fair enough 🙂


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