How to Schmooze at OSCON
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The Booth-Bound Schmoozer
What happens when you want to schmooze at your exhibition booth? Actually, you can do it, but the techniques are very different from those mentioned already. In this case, it's a team effort rather than the actions of a single person that guarantees success. I wrote an article about schmoozing at exhibition booths for Software Research Associates. It details our successes running the PostgreSQL booth at Linux World Boston in February of this year.
There are two halves to this whole. The first is what you do at the conference; the second is what you do afterward. Effective schmoozing is about making and keeping contacts. The key to keeping your connections is maintaining a state of constant communication, including instant messages, email, mailing lists, phone calls, and of course conferences. Defining the frequency and nature of the communication is too complex to cover in one article. I suggest instead that you enroll in the master's in psychology program at your local university. Suffice to say that you should always measure your response and consider every single communication before initiating it.
Tips and Caveats
Successful schmoozing depends on many factors:
- Remember good preparation--Do your homework before going to the conference.
- Use your time well--The longer you're on the conference floor, the more opportunities you have.
- You can't predict opportunity--There's no such thing as a best time to approach somebody. Just do it!
- Expect the unexpected--You can suddenly find yourself invited to a private party with all sorts of chances to meet interesting people.
- Avoid schmoozing in the shadows--People are drawn to crowds, and the best kind of crowd is one in which you're in the center of the action.
Beware the following faux pas:
- Never put undue pressure upon yourself--Have fun schmoozing!
- Never pressure the person you want to talk with--He must have fun being schmoozed.
- Never overstay your welcome--Be prepared to cut short your schmooze. Not everyone will be ready, or willing for that matter, to talk with you. In that case, leave your card. If the opportunity presents itself, make yourself physically visible from time to time during the conference. For example, you can sit in the front row and nod to your contact before the session starts. You can always talk another time.
- Never show disrespect--All people are worthwhile contacts, not just the keynote speaker. Treat people with respect, and they'll return it in measure. If you do meet with a celebrity, remember that he or she probably prefers being treated as an ordinary person. Clear your head and focus more on getting your message out, less on your contact's reputation.
- Don't get drunk at the parties--I know it sounds bizarre, but OSCON parties are for work. You can relax when you get back home.
You'll know you're a good schmoozer when you find yourself being approached by total strangers and they want to schmooze you, imitation being the purest form of flattery.
Conferences, like OSCON, provide a meeting environment for like-minded individuals. Great conferences are those places at which a person takes away more than he came with. Sure, they can be a great excuse for a party, but that's the method and not the reason for going. Being a good schmoozer benefits not only yourself but also those whom you network with. In the end, everybody benefits, because you've added value to the conference itself.
Be seeing you.
Robert Bernier is the PostgreSQL business intelligence analyst for SRA America, a subsidiary of Software Research America (SRA).
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Offtopic : Networking and building relationships - how important is it ?
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