First, my apologies for starting a daily post on TED and stopping after day 2. It was my intention to chronicle each day, but TED ended up getting the best of me, and I got the best of TED. I decided not to do a recap of the TED talks. It is available online on the TED blog. There is also a blog post that rounds up all the other blog posts. But if you are curious, my favorite talks were Susan Cain, Bryan Stevenson, Sherry Turkle, Billy Collins, Reid Hoffman, Jon Ronson, and Vijay Kumar. Each talk spoke to a different passion and inspired me in a unique way. But the real excitement of the conference is the people that attend. I’ll spare you the name-dropping, but I’m still in awe about all the people that I’ve met.
The first three days of the conference, I was a pure tech/biz groupie, squealing like a school girl (on the inside), each time I met someone new. Honestly, it wasn’t until Thursday (day 4), that I realized there was something more to this conference. It wasn’t until Thursday that I realized that I had access. It was an epiphany, as I discovered my current position and realizing the true value and potential of access. Access to the right resources at the right time has a history of changing lives.
I ultimately decided to take advantage of this new epiphany. I thought of my current challenges and current knowledge gaps in running starting a nonprofit and starting a tech startup (these are the fields I currently work). TED publishes a list of attendees with bios and contact information. After performing word searches on bios such as nonprofit management, big data, and other key phrases, I found attendees that I had a specific interest in learning from. Some of them had experienced in nonprofit management, some were developers using big data, and one enjoyed knitting. I emailed each one asking for a brief speed meeting. I included our common interests, so they had a reference as to why I was emailing. I was actually surprised that I received a response from everyone I emailed. Everyone was happy to meet and connect. I got a chance to get some of my tough business and nonprofit questions answered in these quick speed meetings from experienced experts. I also made solid connections, everyone was happy to talk further beyond the conference.
I think many would call this ‘networking’. But honestly, before TED I’ve never participated in networking this way. I’ve been to networking events and mostly people just exchange business cards. But often nothing more is exchanged or a real connection is never made. Maybe I was doing ‘networking’ wrong or just attending the wrong events, but so are a lot of people. So here are some key networking tips that I learned from TED and plan on using in future conferences. (I’m not implying that other conferences will be like TED, just implying there are awesome people everywhere to meet)
1. Perfect your speed pitch/introduction — It doesn’t have to be a pitch per se, but a laser focus introduction of who you are, and why this person may be interested in connecting with you. I really thought I had a good speed pitch prior to TED. But the first day of TED, I attended a session of speed meetings. Each speed meeting was three minutes in duration. Each time I met someone, I learned how to adjust my pitch based on the questions people asked. I learned from their questions that there were certain things in my pitch that weren’t clear or didn’t convey the heart of my mission. It really took about an hour of speed meetings, before I felt as if my pitch was clear. During the second hour of speed meeting, I realized there weren’t nearly as many questions. I took this to mean that either my pitch was better, or people were just tired of meeting. Either way practice your speed pitch, and learn to adjust it based on the feedback you receive from of questions or reactions.
2. Attend a conference with a purpose — I previously despised networking at conferences. It was rare that I received any value. And being an pure introvert, most networking events left me mentally exhausted. I find it helpful when conferences or events publish their list of attendees. Its worth it to do a little ‘research’ on those in attendance and make an effort to meet people of interest. Often the person of interest is not the ‘celebrity’ of the conference. But someone who may be more accessible, but you can still learn their experience and their connections. It also helps to set goals before attending a conference. What are you trying to accomplish from attending the conference? Be specific in your goals. ‘Meet people’ is not a specific goal, plus you can meet people at the supermarket. One of my goals from TED was to ‘Connect with developers working with Big Data.’
3. Be present in conversation and listen.
4. Become a connector — Everyone you meet at a conference may not be in direct alignment with your current goals. However, networking in its purist form is actually just building a network. You become a node in the network and have the ability to connect others and align goals. Plus its just good networking karma.
Realizing and implementing the above, TED became life changing. I learned so much in such a little time from having access to the right people. I spent most of Friday evening re-planning projects to include some lessons from the people I met at TED. I’ve included milestones in my project that lead up to TED2013, in an effort to showcase implemented learnings from my speed mentors. I’ve already shared with friends the things that I’ve learned so they can put to use in their projects. Overall, I’ve added to my personal development growth and learned a new method of learning from conferences. I really can’t put a dollar value of that. Thank you TED for the amazing week.