5 Ways to Make Friends at a Technical Conference

These are my top tips for getting along and meeting new people at a technical conference.

Take an extension cable

Conferences are notorious for having too few and too short power leads, and everyone needs to recharge laptops, especially in hands-on sessions like tutorial day. Having an extension cable will make you instant friends as you bring power to more people.

Join in the pre-conference hype

Follow the nominated twitter tag and log into the IRC channel if there is one. Find out who is staying in the same place as you or arriving at the same time, arrange to travel together or meet for a pre-conference drink to break the ice.

Attend the extra-curricular events

Don’t think for a moment that when the official schedule ends, you are off-duty for the night! Find out about any social activities going on – and if there is an informal track such as an unconference, make sure you attend, or even participate. This is a great opportunity to meet more people and see more talks in a much less structured environment.

Take business cards

Or if you don’t have that kind of job (or even if you do!) get some moo cards to take with you so you can pass on your blog/email address, name and twitter details to people you want to stay in touch with after the event.

Stay an extra day

The party starts when the conference ends, so hang around for 24 hours or so and join in :) Especially for the speakers (whose rooms are paid for) and those travelling internationally, there’s no need to rush off straight away. Some of the best times I’ve had at conferences have been after the main event.

Keep in touch

Write up your experiences on your blog (do you have a blog? If not, this is a great place to start) and tag it appropriately. Comment on other people’s and stay in touch with the new friends that you made at the conference.

OK, so technically this is six ways to make friends, but I won’t apologise for that :) What’s your top tip for conference attendees?

13 thoughts on “5 Ways to Make Friends at a Technical Conference

    • Its not just power cords and strips. Carrying ‘spares’ is always useful. My ‘geek’ back pack always has a couple of ipod/iphone cables in it, USB A->B/miniB, CAT-5 cables and so on it. You never know when they’ll be useful to you or someone else.

  1. Make a point of talking to someone you don’t know. It’s really easy to keep in your circle of friends – it’s comfortable and fun. But a lot of new interesting relationships will come from reaching out. I find that most other people at tech conferences tend to be shy as well, so reaching out isn’t really difficult – people respond well as if they were just waiting for someone to include them.

    Go to a talk/presentation that might sound like it’s not at all up your alley. You might like it after all.

    Stick around after a talk and chat with the talk attendees – a lot of interesting and meaningful conversations happen right after a talk, when everyone is excited about the topic but there is no pressure to raise your hand in a big room full of people.

    • > Stick around after a talk and chat
      > with the talk attendees

      I certainly agree on this one! You could also start smoking: you are obligated to go outside and make new friends, but this does have a downside, hehe. ;)

  2. Yes,the key is to take the initiative. I have been to a number of meetings/conferences on my own and I make a point of always speaking to whoever I’m sitting next to. I’ve had some very interesting conversations this way. Also don’t be afraid to go to something on your own, I’ve had plenty of friends/colleagues over the years who won’t go unless in a group and they have missed so much!

  3. Don’t be shy!

    Go on up and talk to the most famous person there, or any speaker who was particularly interesting.

    Particularly if they are just standing around in a group or, even better, doing nothing at all.

    They *love* hearing that you liked their talk, and will be even more pleased by an intelligent question about any aspect of it that wasn’t 100% clear — That tells them what to expand in the next conference they give that same talk.

  4. Thanks to everyone who commented – Richard I really like your tips for approaching speakers! As a speaker myself nothing gives me more pleasure than to know I’m making sense to someone or to pick up the thread of my talk later.

    As for everyone advocating talking to people you didn’t already know – this is excellent advice! I have met so many interesting people by chatting to the person next to me at a talk or in the queue for coffee! Now I almost prefer to attend events where I don’t have a predefined crowd to hang out with :)

  5. These are some nice tips for anyone who have sometimes problems with talking to strangers, getting involved in a talk, or just to start conversation with anyone. But technical conferences are not only surrounded by so called “nerds” :) There are many interesting and open-minded people that are very talkative and would like to introduce themselves to many people, so I think that good mood and a smile would help a lot.

  6. At the moment I am getting to quite a few conferences, as a speaker, as an organiser, and sometimes as a plain old attendee. I get so much from these opportunities to learn from experts in their various fields, meet people in the flesh whose blogs I read

  7. Have you people got nothing to do ?

    Conferences can be an effective use of time. All these suggestions surely aren;t directed at educated adults!

    “don’t be shy !” , “take business cards”

    for fooks sake !

    • I have to say that some developers I’ve met at conferences *are* quite shy, even if they don’t seem that way from their online presence. Making new contacts/friends in your industry is one of the most important things to do at a conference, and I think it’s a shame if you’re not doing that.

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