20 June 2014

Decreasing conference awkwardness.

If we're very honest with ourselves, we'll likely agree that academics, particularly scientists, are quite an awkward bunch. Put a few thousand of us together in an unfamiliar environment, and we spend lots of time searching for people we know (or need to know) amidst a sea of quasi-familiar faces, trying to promote our science, while simultaneously attempting to keep track of our laptops, phones, conference programs, bags, etc.

I've been thinking about ways to alleviate the unpleasantness while maximizing the fun. It's kind of ironic for me to give advice like this, given my own tendency towards awkward, but if it works for me…?

  1. Don't be afraid to take a look at someone's name tag/affiliation, and even to let them know you're doing so. At a conference with hundreds/thousands of people, it's normal to need a moment to recognize everyone! There are even some folks with face blindness or who otherwise struggle to place faces in the absence of names. There will be a few folks who will act like jerks because you don't know them, but you don't really want to be their friend anyway, eh?
  2. Addendum to #1: Don't let your name tag hang on your stomach. Tie a knot in the string holding it so it's closer to your face. This is especially important for short people (so tall folks don't have to bend over) and women (because boobs).
  3. Second addendum to #1: Add your twitter username to your name tag. Some conferences (like ScienceOnline) do this for you. You might be surprised how many folks recognize you for your twitter handle (for me, @k8hert) but not necessarily your name (Kate Hertweck).
  4. Extension of #3: Make it easier for folks to talk to you about your poster or talk. My first (title) and last (acknowledgement) slides of my talks include my twitter handle, Google+, blog address, and Slideshare address. I decided recently to include my twitter handle in a footer at the bottom of every slide (with my name, affiliation, and short title), in case people want to tweet mid-talk. Post your talk or poster online (like at Slideshare) and tell the audience…way easier than expecting someone to take notes instead of listening, or printing off small copies of a poster.
  5. I depend on my resealable travel coffee mug, because I'm really good at accidentally spilling things but like having water/coffee with me (someone already knocked over a cup of water in front of me yesterday in the morning sessions). Evolution this year told us ahead of time we're all getting water bottles, which helps you plan when packing!
  6. I also adore my external rechargeable cell phone battery. I like tweeting at meetings and can also take notes on my phone, and this gadget sure beats trying to find an available outlet. I've been seeing them at big-box stores for $10.
  7. Of course, here's my obligatory note that I'd be quite lost without twitter. There's no better way to find people, events or information. I know some folks who use it as their conference notes.
For a few more of my favorite conference tips, see my post from last year. Anybody else have ideas?

Some folks from Twitter had great ideas:

That reminded me of another of my tricks: I keep business cards face-out behind my name tag. I always forget to give them out, and it helps to have a few handy.

1 comment:

Jenny said...

I enjoyed your post :) I'll be using your twitter tip in any talks I give from now on, thanks!