Both seasoned speakers and facilitators, Laura & Doug chat about reentering in real life events. Get tips on preparing and running sessions, participating in them, networking and even event recovery in this episode.
- How to be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson
Important note: this is a lightly-edited AI transcription of the conversation. If you require verbatim quotations, please double-check against the audio!
Laura Hilliger: [00:00:23] Hello and welcome to the Tao of WAO, a podcast about the intersection of technology, society and internet culture with a dash of philosophy and art for good measure. I am Laura Hilliger.
Doug Belshaw: [00:00:36] And I’m Doug Belshaw. This podcast season is currently partially unfunded. You can support this podcast and other We are open projects and products at opencollective.com/Weareopen.
Laura Hilliger: [00:00:49] So today we are going to talk about re-entering the world of events and conferences and workshops and in-person work events after Covid. And we thought we would talk about this because I am going to be going to my first event in almost three years or even longer than three years in just a couple of weeks.
Doug Belshaw: [00:01:16] And I will be there too. I have been to another event, so I went to the the Dutch National Libraries Conference, which was actually in three different locations in the Netherlands. And that was as they were like literally as I was there, they came out of all of the restrictions and all that kind of stuff, which was which was weird. Um, yeah. So maybe we can talk a little bit about that. But we recognise that people will be going back to events, um, and people will have different readiness and tolerances around Covid. We’re not going to talk about respiratory diseases, we’re going to talk more about what we’ve learned in our pre-pandemic dalliances with events of all different kinds of shapes and sizes, what we’ve learned, what to avoid, that kind of thing.
Laura Hilliger: [00:02:03] Yeah. And so the event that we’re both going to is Badge Summit in Boulder, Colorado. When is it? The beginning of August.
Doug Belshaw: [00:02:13] Yeah.
Laura Hilliger: [00:02:14] And we’re going to be hanging out with our friends at participate and running a workshop, which looks like it’s shaping up to be good fun, I think.
Doug Belshaw: [00:02:24] Yeah. And big shout out to Noah Geisel, who put on the Badge Summit and it was a much smaller event. It’s grown over time. He is now in charge of the micro credentialing program at is it Colorado State or Boulder, one of the universities there anyway. Um, so he’s done a great job. I think I was the original or the first keynote when it was a lot smaller event and it’s just got a nice vibe. There’s lots of people who are interested in badges for all different kinds of things. So corporate stuff, community stuff, everything like that. So it’s going to be a good event. But Laura, before we get into that, what if you think back to before the pandemic, before three years ago, what were some of your kind of standout favourite events that you would never miss or even just one offs that you really enjoyed?
Laura Hilliger: [00:03:12] Well, I think the first one I would always say is Mars Fest, the Mozilla Festival, which I believe they’ve moved now. But I was at the very first one way back in the day when it was called the drumbeat festival in Barcelona. And then over the years while I was working with Mozilla, I actually ran a floor at Mars Fest at Ravensbourne, I think 4 or 5 years where I was sort of the responsible for having the floor run. And there were, I think, nine floors. And so each floor had a concept. And I mean, Mars Fest is a is a great event. There’s just so many creative, interesting people that go there. It’s very participatory. You get to make things and learn things. And, um, yeah, I have I have a lot of great memories of Mars Fest and I know you’ve, you’ve done Mars Fest a bunch of times as well.
Doug Belshaw: [00:04:07] Yeah. So the name for that you had, I think for running a floor was Space Wrangler, which is just such an awesome name. Um, my favourite Mos fest think was just after I joined the Open badges team and we all wore lab coats and you could kind of pimp your own lab coat with glitter and like light up LEDs and all this kind of stuff. And we had the words human on my back. Um, and it was great. And I feel like, you know, I was there as a community member. I was there as a staff member. I was there as a community member again afterwards and a volunteer. Um, I, I do feel it lost a little bit of its magic. As you know, conferences and events, you know, do over time. In fact, I went to what was my favourite conference recently after Covid, and I don’t think I’ll go back because it just lost the vibe. And I think the thing which made me really enjoy events before the pandemic was when it wasn’t all just really shiny and focussed on people making money, but it felt like it was a community focussed event. So Moodle moots were always fantastic teach meets, which were kind of grassroots teachers standing up, sharing their practice were always fantastic until they got a little bit commercialised and had keynotes and stuff weirdly. But yeah, What else do you kind of remember from that time period?
Laura Hilliger: [00:05:30] Well, I mean, I went to a lot of different sorts of events, like one one kind that I don’t know if people would call it an event, but like all staff meetings or all company meetings where there’s, you know, an agenda. I did quite a few with Greenpeace, which were really fun. They really Greenpeace always has proper facilitation and they really care about creating safe space for people. And I really valued, valued that. Plus, you know, like Mozilla and the Mozilla community at Greenpeace is very much into participatory working. So, you know, you would go to an event and you get to actually think out loud and it wasn’t everybody just always presenting, but rather you got your hands dirty. So. I like the events where you where you’re doing things. I’m not I’m not super keen on the the talky talky events.
Doug Belshaw: [00:06:24] Yeah, and we’ve both done both, I guess. Um, and it’s, it’s quite kind of edifying to be the person on the stage being either paid or having part of your job to stand and share stuff. But those are kind of lean back events where people are sitting in there the almost like could have popcorn, you know, sitting, watching you do stuff versus the lean forward ones where there’s a problem to be solved. Um, so one of the kind of conferences or events I went to was a fringe event for Mozfest re decentralised and there was really no agenda until everyone rocked up and decided what we wanted to talk about. I ended up leading a session on kind of moderation and decentralised social networks, and I’ve kept in touch with some of the people in our session who I didn’t know beforehand. And they’re the kind of I mean, we’ll talk about networking later on, but there’s they’re the kind of events where you really do feel like you’re part of the community rather than and there’s nothing wrong with this. Rather than sitting watching someone who you can learn from on the stage. So yeah, I’d prefer those lean forward events rather than lean back ones.
Laura Hilliger: [00:07:30] Yep, same. Although I do have to say, there have been a couple of events that I’ve been to where the stage show was just so crazy that it was super entertaining. Like I spoke at a some kind of a branding conference and was doing some stuff on storytelling and Greenpeace and the conference organisers had a laser show that was absolutely nuts in between every speaker, and they had trampolines underneath the stage. And so in between speakers there were like people jumping on trampolines, which was just like it was. It was I mean, I can’t imagine the amount of money that they spent on that, but it was very entertaining to, you know, have a little break between speakers and then watch people jumping around on giant trampolines.
Doug Belshaw: [00:08:18] Oh, for sure. Actually, another event I’ve just remembered I went to this year was down in London Learning Technologies. And that was that was weird because there’s like a free part to it. And then if you paid £1,000 a ticket, you could come and and only found this out later. You could come and hear people like me speak and was speaking for free on, on various things like there’s those kinds of events, there’s awards events there’s there’s all different kinds of things. And um, I think if you’re at the start of your career or if you haven’t been to many events, it’s probably worth going to different kinds of ones just to find out what’s your vibe and what you get most value from. It’ll probably be a mixture of stuff, but you if you’re like Laura and I, you’ll probably get most value from rolling up your sleeves and finding new friends and working on stuff together.
Laura Hilliger: [00:09:11] Yeah. So maybe we should talk a little bit about our experience in actually running sessions at events because as Doug mentioned, we’ve both I mean, I’ve stood on stage in front of thousands of people and, you know, said some words, which is nerve wracking. But I’ve also run tons of smaller workshops or even, you know, we did we facilitated the co tech event one year where we had, I don’t know, between 70, 80 people and we’re facilitating the entire agenda. So and that was a very participatory.
Doug Belshaw: [00:09:47] You say we like you did that really. Um, and I, I would have been so like don’t get nervous going standing on stage, but I would have been so, um. I don’t know if I can’t think of the word, but I would have been so intimidated probably by having because it was a massive circle of people and you knew a lot of the people or were getting to know a lot of people in that circle. Um, and I would have been quite intimidated by that kind of facilitation, whereas you it’s like seemed like water off a duck’s back.
Laura Hilliger: [00:10:21] Yeah, I think that’s really interesting because I get intimidated when I have to stand on stage and there’s a huge audience that’s, you know, I go over my speech, I remember, oh, at the beginning of my career, I met I met a man who had done tons and tons of talks, presentations on stage. And I was about to do my first one. And it was I was maybe, I don’t know, 20 and I was really nervous. And he said, you just have to stay on rails. And I’ve carried that with me through throughout my entire career. Essentially, his advice was, Go over your speech ten times and then no matter what happens, you will stay on the rails of what you’ve planned to do. And I really I mean, I really get nervous before I go on stage. I’ve been on stage a bunch of times, but I much prefer being in the crowd, facilitating a group of people. I just you’re right. I feel much more comfortable. That’s that’s an interesting difference.
Doug Belshaw: [00:11:20] There it is. Yeah. And I think some of my feeling comfortable standing on the stage is it’s a mask. It’s a performance. I’ve been a teacher, you know, if I can make a 30 teenagers interest in history, which was my subject, then I’m sure I can make these people who have paid to be here to hear me talk about the subject. Interesting what I’m doing. And the other thing, too, there’s two other things to remember. First of all, when you get those butterflies in your stomach, that’s your body preparing you to be successful like so if you can say that, actually, I’m excited. I’m not nervous. I’m excited. And the second one is to and this really changed my thinking about speaking at events with like I’ve spoken a conference, had a thousand people for the Ignite talks for example. Um, is that everyone in that audience wants you to be successful because if you’re not, it’s like, you know, fist bitingly, um, cringey and terrible for the people in the audience. So they want you to be successful. They want to learn things from you and they want you to do your best. And so actually everyone’s on your, your side. So once you get kind of that around that and you do all the practising that you mentioned, um, then yeah, really just need practice like anything else.
Laura Hilliger: [00:12:38] It’s so funny that you say that when you’re on stage it feels like a mask and that it’s performative because that’s exactly how I feel with 100 people sitting in a circle and I’m the one who’s facilitating whatever they’re doing. I feel like that is a mask and I feel completely naked on stage.
Doug Belshaw: [00:12:55] Right? Oh, that’s interesting, interesting.
Doug Belshaw: [00:12:58] So one of the things that we tend to do, whether we’re doing things online or offline, is and we’ve just been one of the reasons we want to do this podcast episode is because we’ve got the bad summer coming up and also we’ve been planning our session there and there’s certain things that I think both of us have realised that it’s important to do right from the beginning. So for example, if you start off the session and then do ten minutes of input before getting people to talk to each other and do something, people go into lean back mode, whereas you want them to be in lean forward mode and so you need some kind of activity right at the start to get people talking, get them them to do stuff. One thing that I learned from you was people need something to do with their hands. Can you explain that a little bit?
Laura Hilliger: [00:13:45] Yeah, I mean, in in live workshop situations, I find that if you give people something to do with their hands, they’re more likely to actually pay attention to what’s happening in the room. Whereas if you’re, you know, if it’s very like if there’s no note taking, no facilitated note taking or no activities that are getting people to actually move around the room, it’s very easy for people to go into what you call lean back mode and, you know, get on their phones or on their laptop or whatever. And at that point, they’re, you know, they’re doing something else. They’re they’re not really present. And so I think, you know, with for me, when I run a sessions, I always start with something participatory, some kind of icebreaker, something fun so that people understand that we’re all together in this room, that it’s not you know, it’s not the presenter who’s going to present, but rather we’re going to work together. And yeah, and as you say, getting people talking. I think, you know, we can learn a lot from each other. And I think that a facilitated conversation is a really good way to reflect on whatever the topic of the day is, even if you don’t know anything about it. And it’s I find it’s much easier for the facilitator too, because you, you know, if for me, like I said, I feel naked when I’m speaking in front of people, but facilitating is like, you know, a mask or a comfort zone. So if other people are doing the speaking, then I don’t have to. I don’t feel like I have to fill as much airtime.
Doug Belshaw: [00:15:11] And if you get people to talk to the person next to them, not only do they feel more comfortable in your session and they’ve found someone else they can talk to at the event if they don’t have anyone else to. But also it means that they are translating what they’re learning, what they’re discussing into their own language to then use with the person next to them. And then they’re getting a different way of looking at what’s going on from someone else. It’s just a symbol of a really powerful thing to do. The other thing I wanted to say was that, um, I think that giving people something to do with their hands is the reason why online sessions are so difficult because you only one click away from Twitter, your email slack, whatever it is, which is obviously very distracting. Um, and I think in one session that you ran when I was in, you got people to show their hands on screen on like on video camera.
Doug Belshaw: [00:16:01] Just to make sure they weren’t doing stuff like that.
Laura Hilliger: [00:16:04] A big yeah. And I’m also a big fan of in virtual sessions of getting people to sort of bring their environment in. So like a nice icebreaker for a virtual a virtual session is like, Hey, okay, you have 60s find something blue and then, you know, people go away, they find something on their desk and they’re like, This is blue. What is it? It’s a, you know, random thing. And you kind of learn about people’s surroundings, which I think is a nice way to sort of create connectivity between participants.
Doug Belshaw: [00:16:36] Yeah, my kids did that a lot during the during lockdown, running around the house, finding stuff that’s red and all that kind of stuff. Um, the one that I think I’ve learnt I’ve used a lot since you introduced me to. It was the if you really knew me one, just because it allows people to bring their whole selves in that learning technologies. One I mentioned before, someone mentioned the fact like, if you really knew me, you’d know that. And it was like they had man marked in a footballing sense. And this African player. Um, I’ve forgotten the name of him, but like, it was a big deal in this person’s life and it kind of then opened conversations about football and sport and then that linked in later on to badges for sporting activities and this and that. And then it made a connection between this person in the room and that person in the room. So all of that, instead of arriving in role, bringing your full self. And the other thing I want to get through a few of these in terms of running sessions and participating and stuff is that I’ve been to a lot of sessions run by other people and sometimes what’s run by me where there’s been no real next steps at the end of the session, no kind of call to action, no kind of. So you end up with this kind of really deflated like, well, that was lovely, but now nothing’s going to happen. There’s. There’s. So what? Isn’t there?
Laura Hilliger: [00:18:02] Yeah. Yeah, so ending with a call to action of some of some kind.
Doug Belshaw: [00:18:08] Yeah. So like, let’s continue the conversation, build something together or the next session for this group is going to be next week or anything at all, just so it doesn’t. Otherwise it just ends on a bit of a low.
Laura Hilliger: [00:18:22] Yeah, I’m also I’m a big fan of ending the session with some some kind of activity that allows people to sort of reflect on the session itself. Because as a facilitator, it’s really helpful to hear what people liked, what they didn’t like, where they got uncomfortable because you can use it to, you know, inform your own practice and your own sort of agenda making skills. I’d love to hear what people really thought and even just saving a couple of minutes to say, How is that for you?
Doug Belshaw: [00:18:52] Yeah, yeah.
Doug Belshaw: [00:18:55] Um, one thing before we go into kind of participating in other people’s sessions, um, that I’ve forgot to add to our planning notes was that it’s your responsibility to promote your session at an event. It’s not the, you know, the person who’s organising the events job to do that. So at the Mozilla festival, which we’ve already talked about, I remember getting those little flip chart things and you could, you know, draw things. And my drawing skills are terrible, but you can get someone else to do it and put things on social media, put little things around the place, all that kind of stuff and, you know, keep, keep people interested, say what they’re going to learn, like say what they’re going to do. Don’t just say it’ll be an interactive session, but say like what it is that they’ll be doing during the session.
Laura Hilliger: [00:19:39] Um, so you mean like.
Doug Belshaw: [00:19:41] Encourage people to go along? Like people like you will like things like this.
Laura Hilliger: [00:19:47] So you’re saying that we should say that our badge summits session is going to involve pizza?
Doug Belshaw: [00:19:53] Oh, yeah.
Laura Hilliger: [00:19:54] People to come? Yeah. It’s going to involve pizza.
Doug Belshaw: [00:19:57] One thing that I do when I run sessions, I did this alone. Technologies. I did it all alone. Technology is important because there were parallel sessions go out of the room as everyone else is going in, and people who are standing around the edge not sure where they want to go in, encourage them to come in, say how great it’s going to be, and they get more people into your sessions because then you’re going to have a more impact. Don’t be shy. The reason you’re doing the session is to have an impact.
Doug Belshaw: [00:20:21] Let’s move on to participation then, shall we?
Laura Hilliger: [00:20:26] Yeah, let’s flip it around. What? What? How are you inside of a session? What are your like? What’s the vibe that you put out when you go to somebody else’s session?
Doug Belshaw: [00:20:37] And it’s it’s interesting sometimes because sometimes you go to sessions and a lot of the people in the room already know who you are and you know who the people are. And that’s a different kind of vibe. But most often you’d go to a session and you might know 1 or 2 people you might know no one, but it’s kind of just being respectful to the person running the session and also the the people in the session as well. How about you?
Laura Hilliger: [00:21:03] Yeah, I think I mean, it really depends on the kind of event that you’re at. And, you know, I think a lot relies on the facilitator because I’ve been to sessions where it’s, you know, where the room basically just wasn’t even there because they were so disengaged, the audience so disengaged. And it’s heartbreaking. As you said earlier, everybody wants you to be successful when you’re a speaker, when you’re in a session and somebody’s running, you know, some something that tries to be participatory and nobody kind of wants to play, it is heartbreaking. Um.
Doug Belshaw: [00:21:38] That is a good point, actually. Everybody wants you to be successful when they’re having a shared common experience on stage. Not everyone wants you to be a successful facilitator. I would say.
Laura Hilliger: [00:21:51] Or they or maybe some people just don’t care.
Doug Belshaw: [00:21:54] Some people don’t care. Some people I’ve been to sessions where and it’s especially white males of a certain age and I fall into that age bracket and I just like, well, I think this facility is wrong. And I don’t care if this session crashes and burns as long as everyone knows that I’m right. Um, which is a really dangerous situation to be in and it takes skilful facilitation to avoid that. But as another. Sorry. Go on.
Laura Hilliger: [00:22:20] I was just going to say on that point, I think, you know, in terms of participating in sessions, I’m the type of person where if I see that happening, where the facilitator is really struggling, I try to be an extra awesome participant because that person has prepared. They’re trying. And when, you know, some arseholes come and they’re like, I just I’m right and you’re wrong. Um, I think that it, it brings something into the room that doesn’t necessarily need to be there. And so I’m the type of person to be like, okay, well, how like, how can I actually try and mitigate this situation? I mean, not that I take over the session or something, but I definitely try to encourage people around me or to participate. The way that the facilitator is asking you to participate, to kind of model the type of behaviour that I, you know, would expect from other people.
Doug Belshaw: [00:23:12] Now that’s a good point. Yeah. And encouraging other people’s to other people to contribute. So if you go into small groups, then you’re going back into the bigger session and no one wants to do a share out, you know, if in doubt lead and you know, do the share out, but bring in other people and say, oh, you know, Laura made a fantastic point earlier. Laura, do you wanna explain what you meant? Because I think I’ve kind of gone. And then they they’re not leading the the report back, but they can say that a little bit and then maybe next time they will do the report out. And it’s just, yeah, as you say, being an awesome participant and also being prepared and I’ve done the reading so you don’t walk up knowing nothing about the session at all. Yeah. So in terms of preparing, then it’s not just about doing the reading, looking at the schedule, whatever. What else would you have in terms of getting ready for an event?
Laura Hilliger: [00:24:04] I mean, this is I think this is something that took me a long time to learn, but that I actually need to prepare my body for an event. You know, like in early, early events, I used to just rock up and then I would just hang the entire three days and not worry about actually what, you know, my physical and psychological needs were. And I don’t know if it’s just that I’ve gotten older or because I’ve been to literally hundreds of events. But at this point.
Doug Belshaw: [00:24:31] You can probably get away with that in your 20s, right?
Laura Hilliger: [00:24:35] I don’t know. I don’t really think that I did because I remember many events where I would be at a three day event or whatever, and then I would come home and I would just absolutely crash, like not be able to do anything for a number of days as I recovered. And now you know, over over time, you kind of learn, okay, like how do how do I create space for myself at a multi day event? How do I make sure that I, you know, get the rest I need, but also get to do kind of the networking kind of things? How do I do? I have emergency food? That’s a big one for me because I found that I forget to eat at events and then I’m really, really hungry and my blood sugar is really, really low. And I, I actually always have an emergency granola bar in my bag like all times. Not just events, but just in life.
Doug Belshaw: [00:25:26] Yeah, me too. I have one of those little naked bars where it’s just like smushed up nuts and dates and all that kind of stuff.
Laura Hilliger: [00:25:33] Yeah, me too.
Doug Belshaw: [00:25:34] And people drink far too much like you might. I don’t know how many cups of coffee you have on a normal day. I have maybe two, but people drink, shed loads of coffee because it might be free or it’s just something to do with your hands. Or it’s there and available or whatever. And that can really screw things up because obviously coffee is a diuretic and it means that you get dehydrated and all that kind of stuff. So another thing is take a massive carrabino of water and keep filling it up.
Laura Hilliger: [00:26:06] Yeah.
Laura Hilliger: [00:26:07] Yeah. And you know, even like really simple things like go outside every once in a while because like a lot of events, they have these massive conferences, conference halls, and the entire event is inside and outside. It’s, you know, outside. And I think people underestimate how much we need, even just, you know, in the middle of the day, ten minutes outside, a little bit of vitamin D or, you know, smell the rain, whatever. But I mean, that was another one that I had to learn that like, it’s okay for me to say, I can’t do this back to back schedule. I’m going to take a ten minute break and I’m going to go outside. And it seems it seems like a simple thing, but I’ve noticed that, you know, often at events there aren’t a lot of people outside. They they stay inside, so.
Doug Belshaw: [00:26:52] Yeah, that’s a good point about overscheduling. Like just because there’s a schedule and a program which has back to back sessions and you only got ten minutes break in the entire morning doesn’t mean that you have to you’re an adult like you can do what you want. You don’t have to go to every session. And in fact, one point to mention is that you shouldn’t feel bad about going to a session realising that it’s not what you expected or it’s not for you, and respectfully leave and quietly the session and going into another one or just taking some time going outside. One thing I usually take like at least two, maybe three pairs of headphones to events because I want to make.
Doug Belshaw: [00:27:32] Sure that.
Doug Belshaw: [00:27:34] Because I can shut the world out and if I close my eyes and have my headphones on, then I can completely zone out the event. So I’d think maybe you would as well like describe myself as a bit of an ambivert So I spend a lot of my time by myself, but also I’ve got no problem being with other people. It’s just sometimes it becomes a little bit too much.
Laura Hilliger: [00:27:57] Yeah, yeah. And I think from the organisation perspective, I think it’s really important to provide spaces for people who need a break. And so yes, we can go outside, but I mean some of the best conferences I’ve been to have had some sort of quiet zone where people who are a bit, you know, maybe they just want quiet, but maybe they’re also overwhelmed. And I think that’s particularly important for people with autism, people who are highly introverted. They want to be able to learn and participate. But sometimes that kind of atmosphere with so many different people around can be really taxing. And so, you know.
Doug Belshaw: [00:28:36] That’s going to be particularly important as people are coming back from their little caves after Covid and going back into the world.
Laura Hilliger: [00:28:45] Yeah, I think so, because, I mean, I certainly have noticed in the past couple of months since things have been open. Opening up again and there have been more events. I get tired more quickly from other people than I used to like. I’ve definitely noticed that I that I need a little bit more time than I used to or I need, you know, I need to be able to kind of pull back. And I wonder if it’s if it’s really Covid or again, I’m just getting older and becoming more introverted with age. I’m not sure, but I certainly remember.
Doug Belshaw: [00:29:17] The first thing. But we should maybe that’s maybe a nice link into kind of networking and, and you know, I’ve been to they always have like networking events at conferences and there’s usually alcohol involved so we can lower our social inhibitions and stuff. And sometimes those are fantastic. And it’s at the end of the day, there’s a Dutch word for this and it’s it’s almost like a mandatory part of the event and everyone goes to it, but they have these little bit of balls, they call them and drinks and it’s like an integral part of the event. I’ll have to find out the name for it. And it’s great. It’s just like a And now let’s reflect on the event and have a bit of a chat together and then let’s go our separate ways. Whereas some of the corporate ones tend to be a bit like and now let’s give you my business card and talk about doing deals and let me tell you how important I am. And that is like the opposite of how I see networking.
Laura Hilliger: [00:30:14] Yeah. Yeah. It’s so forced. Yeah, yeah.
Doug Belshaw: [00:30:19] And so you get people again, especially younger men who just drink all of the stuff to give them some kind of like Dutch courage and then go round and talk to everyone and about how big an amazing person they are and it’s just a bit terrible. So maybe we can give people advice about how to do networking better than that.
Laura Hilliger: [00:30:42] Well, I think that the point there is that there are some people that talk at other people instead of two. And, you know, I’ve certainly I’m a woman in tech, so I’ve certainly had that experience. And I think I think the the trick is to be a good listener, not a good talker. And yeah, you can of course participate in the conversation, but I think networking works a lot better when you’re actually, you know, interested in what the other person is saying, you know, instead of trying to hawk your own wares.
Doug Belshaw: [00:31:16] So some things I’ve learned from kind of going to networking receptions or just milling around in conference stuff, whatever is connect people together. That’s particularly useful if you want to get out of a conversation. Oh, you really need to meet this person over here. And then you tell them, Oh, I’m just going to go to the toilet. I’m just going to go and get a drink and then, yeah, okay. That’s not. You know, it’s a bit of tag team. The other thing is, and I spent so long agonising over like, what’s the best words to start a conversation? Nobody remembers the first words of a conversation, so you can pretend to be dumb and like, where was this thing again? Or What did they say about that thing? Or have you seen this thing? Like, you can just say anything. You can talk about the weather, but as soon as the words start flowing, they’ve responded. You can start a conversation and you know, there’s an art to it and I’m still learning. But like you can say anything to start chatting, it doesn’t even matter.
Laura Hilliger: [00:32:17] Yeah, I like the offhand random comment or joke that doesn’t fit with the conference at all. That fits with the person. I use that quite a bit. Like, you know, not necessarily a compliment or something, but just something, something random because I find that people tend to respond quite in quite interesting ways. And you can tell a lot about a person if you say something really off the wall and how they respond. I try to I try to figure out, do I want to? Do I actually want to talk to this person? Because that’s also a danger in networking, is that you you know, you get into a conversation and you don’t know how to get out of it, which, yeah, what you just said, introducing other people like that’s also that can also be quite mean. And you’ve totally done that to me at conferences.
Doug Belshaw: [00:33:08] I totally have done that to. You mean if there’s drinks involved, you can always say, I’m going to go and get another drink. Would you like one? Making it very clear that you’re standing here while I’m going to get a drink and then disappearing? Um, but yeah, I mean.
Laura Hilliger: [00:33:22] I think I just learned that I have to say yes, if you ever say that. Because then you are, you know, then you have to come back with a drink.
Doug Belshaw: [00:33:30] Yeah, but I always make sure that other person still has more than half of their drink left, whereas I’ve finished mine. Um, yeah, you’re learning the tactics.
Doug Belshaw: [00:33:38] So the. The other thing about an event and the thing which is for me why it’s so tiring, I remember when I was doing my teacher training and the guy was like, You should be an enlarged version of yourself in the classroom. It’s like that in events. You don’t have to try and be the world’s most confident person or like copy someone else’s behaviours, but just be a slightly enlarged version of who you are. Like be the best version of yourself and can go a long way. Obviously that’s quite tiring. You know, if you’re a naturally snarky person like I am, trying to turn the snark down for a day can be wearing. But um, yeah, just just being a large version. And also you’ve put something on here about going to fringe events.
Laura Hilliger: [00:34:21] Yeah. I mean I think, you know, with, with any larger event, there’s always going to be little things happening in the edges. So maybe it’s actually organised and it is a proper fringe event, but it might also be just, you know, a group of people who are going to a particular place for dinner or whatever, and finding those little opportunities and actually getting away from the event to network with people I find is a really valuable thing to do because people let their hair down a little bit if they’re if they’re going to if you’re going to dinner with, you know, ten random people, maybe five of them know each other and you just kind of attach yourself. I’ve certainly done that and learned learned a lot about really interesting projects. And people and people tend to be a little bit more relaxed in smaller groups. So at big conferences, I’m always looking for, you know, what, where are people kind of congregating and can I can I actually, like involve myself?
Doug Belshaw: [00:35:20] And are things where it’s a relatively large event and there’s some kind of merch involved or stickers or T-shirt or whatever, something which you can show that you’re attending a particular event even when you’re not in that event space. So, for example, you’re staying in a hotel which is likely to have several attendees of that event. If you are wearing something, have a bag, have the program out, whatever, and are sitting in the hotel lobby. You can strike up conversation there with with people. Yeah. Um, so yeah, just seeing those opportunities.
Laura Hilliger: [00:35:55] So let’s talk a little bit about recovering from events, because this is an area that I also I had to learn after having having the I’ve exhausted myself experience multiple times. I’ve now, you know, have a plan for how I’m going to recover for an event. Do you have anything that. Well, I mean, you know, I, I tend to embrace my own internal introvert, so I don’t make any plans, social or otherwise, for the first couple of days after a big event or if I’ve been travelling or whatever, like I don’t, I make sure that I don’t I literally just don’t have plans. Um, which sounds easy enough, but I’ve definitely had the experience where I’m at a big event and then I come home and have social plans and I’m just too exhausted to, like, pay attention to my friends and family the way I would prefer. So I make sure that.
Doug Belshaw: [00:36:48] I think we’re talking here mainly about things that we’ve travelled a decent distance to go to, and it’s more than a day, but even ones where it’s local. So I went to the Thinking Digital Conference recently, which used to be my favourite event. I don’t think I’ll actually go back after this year, but that was a one day event with a conference dinner and after like the next morning I wasn’t really in a work mode, so I just kind of took the morning off. Now there’s two things about that. If you’re in charge of your own calendar, which is basically how to be free in life like Laura and I are, you can decide what you want to do. Um, if you’re employed and you have to kind of ask for time off for your employer, the chances are that you’ve actually worked. If you think about work in terms of doing stuff that you wouldn’t be doing otherwise, and you probably work more than your usual hours at the conference or event. So it’s entirely legitimate. And you should argue this to take off time after the event, you know, take a day off, take a half day off, whatever, to be able to recover. In terms of getting back into a routine, the chances are you haven’t eaten the things you usually eat. You’ve probably slept more or less than usual. And if you have an exercise regime, you’re probably out of that. So getting back into that as soon as possible is usually a useful thing to do.
Laura Hilliger: [00:38:05] Yeah. I also I mean, I find that having, you know, getting, getting yourself back to normal, having a little bit of time off is also really good for the reflection process because if you go to an event and you talk to a lot of people or you go to a lot of sessions, probably your schedule was so full at the event, even if it is just a one day event, you just had so much input that you haven’t maybe had time to actually reflect what that means, how it changes your work or your practice. So I think that the time off for a minute is going to help your brain actually reflect on what happened and then taking a little bit of time to to write about it, you know, to follow up with people that you met, you know, finding some space to do that reflective activity and doing that in the open. So I know, Doug, every time you go to an event, then the next day there’s a big blog post about everything that you learned, everybody that you talk to, what you thought. And I think just that process of reflecting actually probably reveals quite a bit about how you felt about the event.
Doug Belshaw: [00:39:10] Yeah. And even if you’re not like a writer who writes long, you know, medium to long blog posts, just having some kind of, I don’t know, Twitter thread or something where you’re sharing images, images that you’ve taken using the conference hashtag, people you’ve met, all that kind of stuff that can be useful for you to remind yourself further down the line of who you met and what you did and that kind of thing. It can serve as material if you do write that blog post later. I often used to write them on the train on the way back home if it was an event in the UK. Um, but in terms of chances are you going to be tired after the event as we’re kind of intimating here? So when you’ve had fantastic conversations often the day that to follow up on that isn’t the day after the event because people like you are going to be tired. Like if the event finished on Thursday, get back in touch on the Monday like but follow up on the great conversations you’ve had to keep the momentum going, but do it when you’ve got energy. Don’t see it as an obligation that you have to do straight afterwards. The reason why it’s useful to write about stuff straight afterwards is you’ll forget things. So take notes at least if you don’t. Even if you don’t publish things.
Laura Hilliger: [00:40:18] Yeah. Yeah. I, um. I also am in the habit of documenting the resources that I use when I do a session or when I speak. So I think you said that you have a conferences page or you used to have a conferences page.
Doug Belshaw: [00:40:38] I used to have a conferences blog.
Laura Hilliger: [00:40:39] Yeah, yeah.
Doug Belshaw: [00:40:40] And a separate Twitter account for conferences because people got so annoyed with I went to 50 events in 52 weeks when I was in Mozilla. Yeah, because I was evangelising open badges and people were just like Doug. This is great, but, like, I’m not following you just to see like having you tweet out a hundred tweets from an event like. And the world’s different now. Fair enough. But yeah, just something like a separate space, even if it’s just like a list of all the conferences you’ve been to. I need to do that. Actually, I haven’t done that for ages.
Laura Hilliger: [00:41:10] Yeah, I think that mine is really out of date. I also I try to everything that is even online virtual conferences or podcasts or that kind of stuff I try to keep track of, but I’m not very good at it. I yeah, I tend to I tend to forget to update my, my presentations I have on GitHub, I have all of my slides and stuff on like GitHub pages and I, I forget to put stuff there.
Doug Belshaw: [00:41:37] I think you know, I kind of there’s a demarcation between the people that do the kind of stuff that we do and people who are employed and are on a kind of career trajectory. And when I was doing that kind of stuff, you kind of have to evidence professional development and events are a form of professional development. So making sure that you document the events you went to and the sessions you went to and what you learned from them is actually for that kind of work, an important part of your CV?
Laura Hilliger: [00:42:06] Yeah, yeah.
Doug Belshaw: [00:42:11] Um, any kind of, just as we wrap up, is there anything that you’ve seen which you definitely avoid putting on the spot a little bit here, but anything which you’d particularly avoid, any car crashes you’ve seen, any thing where you’ve like anything you’ve done personally or you’ve seen other people do, you’re just like, That is not how to run an event, a session, anything like that.
Laura Hilliger: [00:42:34] Oh, well, I mean, I certainly think that a stage sage on the stage in a sort of like workshop kind of event is a no go. So I’ve definitely been in sessions where I expected it to be kind of a working session or a participant participatory session that ended up just being somebody talking at me. Um, and you know, I also no longer have a problem leaving a room if I’m feeling like I’m not getting something out of a session, I’ll quietly leave. So I think that’s definitely a no go. And I, I mean, I’m quite selective with the, the events that I that I do. I mean, like it’s been three years. So I guess at this point maybe I’m less selective. But I was doing so many events that I really tried to I really tried to pay attention to the other people that were coming. And as a woman in tech, I don’t go to conferences when the entire speaker page is all dudes. I mean, like it’s really not that hard to find one girl, you know? So I think that, you know, when I look at a conference website, I am pretty critical about the way things are framed. And, you know, if it sounds super corporate y and super bullshitty, then chances are I’m not going to do it.
Laura Hilliger: [00:43:52] But yeah,
Doug Belshaw: [00:43:54] Yeah, definitely about the, the kind of diversity and being shown to do diverse, diverse stuff as well. So, um, the last Moodle event I went to, which was the global Moodle moot in Barcelona, um, the, the kind of chief product officer left the organisation a few weeks before that event happened and she was due to be on a panel with all of the product leads which included me. So just before it was about to start, we realised that, Oh, she’s not here because she’s no longer the organisation. And so the CEO stepped in and it ended up just being all white guys. And so when it when the photos went on, social media, people were like, Oh my goodness, it’s a panel. And like things went nuts. And, and I felt really bad for not realising that and not, you know, even though it was all the product leads. But then you’d be like, well, okay, but why are all your product leads white men? And it just led to like this bit of a shitstorm, and I should have realised that and I should have either pushed back beforehand, but it was all just a little bit last minute and things. So yeah, if you’re ever in a situation, some people sign declarations online to say they will not be part of a, you know, a panel or something which isn’t diverse, which I would entirely support.
Laura Hilliger: [00:45:13] Yeah, I think, I think that that in the last five, six, seven years has actually in tech conferences or ed tech conferences or the kinds of conferences that we that we often go to, I think that that has really improved, that people are you know, they’re making sure that people are just, you know, treating diversity and inclusion as an intentional thing because, you know, there are plenty of people out there that that deserve to have a space and a voice. And if you happen to be somebody that can actually give that to someone else, um, you know, I’ve done that before where I’ve, I’ve said, hey, you know what? Actually, maybe the white woman talking about this is not the person that should be talking about this who, you know, can we can we give it to someone else? And trying to to bring some of those voices forward I think is a good thing. So and I think it’s improved in the last years. You know, Manal is now a word that people actually know.
Doug Belshaw: [00:46:07] Yeah, exactly, exactly.
Laura Hilliger: [00:46:09] Yeah.
Doug Belshaw: [00:46:09] Good. Okay. Well, if you’ve been listening to this and you’ve got some other advice for people, feel free to get in touch. Give us some feedback. Maybe we can give you a shout out in a future podcast. This is the last episode of series or season four. You’re very welcome to keep us funded so that we can do series five. Co-op bodies have been very kind and also some people on our open collective page being very kind for for sponsoring us. But if you’d like another six episode of The Dao of Wow after the summer in the Northern Hemisphere, then why don’t you head over to open collective.com/we are open. Any final words of wisdom before we go off for the summer? Laura?
Laura Hilliger: [00:46:51] Um, I’m very much looking forward to my first event badge Summit. I’m excited and also nervous because I haven’t been to an event in so long. And it’s not a word of wisdom, just an admission of a little bit of anxiety about getting back to events after Covid. And if you are feeling like that as well, just FYI, I think it might be very normal. And yeah, let’s see how the event season goes in the fall.
Doug Belshaw: [00:47:20] I am going to stay. Say, stay cool. For those of us in the Northern hemisphere and keep warm for those of us in the southern. Cheers for now!