With Gabe Kangas at the first Big Omaha
Big Omaha is an awesome tech/start-up/creative superconference to bring together forward-thinking entrepreneurs, developers, creative types created by Silicon Prarie News to inspire, support, and connect entrepreneurs who come from all around the country to attend. This year’s tickets all sold out in mere minutes (although you can still get on the waitlist!).
Omaha is an amazing place to live because we’re kind of within this huge wave of change in the way we work and live. On the economic side, our entrepreneurs are becoming more comfortable with risk, investors are noticing the start-ups coming out of the Midwest, and the tightly-knit, accessible community makes it easier to get more for your investment. On the cultural side, our music scene here is already well-known, but we’re also growing in bars and dance clubs, sports franchises, and fine arts attractions like ballet and opera. The close, supportive community has been really advantageous to our growth.
But enough of an Omaha commercial, I guess–I know that I’m mostly in the wedding industry and most of my readers are brides (and I know that most of them skip over posts like this), but I also know from my reader surveys that 30% of my readers are male and 65% of you LOVE the business posts. So knowing that, many of you reading now are probably entrepreneurs–creative, tech, or otherwise–and you’ve probably gone to a few conferences or at least thought about attending. On the #BigOmaha Twitter feed, I’ve seen a few people asking if anyone had any advice for first-time conference-goers. I tweeted a few tips and decided that I really wanted share them in a post.
1. Sit up front
If you want to pay attention and engage with the speakers, you can only sit up front. If you want to take bathroom breaks and have whispered side-conversations with a cool new person you’ve met, stand in the back. But don’t miss a chance to have an emotional connection to an awesome speaker–in the front row, they’re sure to remember you if you want to talk later.
2. Think of two questions for each speaker
You’ll most likely get a chance to ask them, either with a microphone after the talk, or at an after-party or chance hallway encounter. Pay attention to what your internal dialogue is doing as you listen and react to each talk. Was a detail left out that you’d like to understand more clearly? Do you have a question about how to apply the speaker’s lessons to your own experience? Think of a few questions you can ask because you will definitely get the opportunity.
3. Eat lunch last
So part of the reason you’re going to a conference in the first place is to meet people, right? One of the biggest opportunities to network is over the long lunch break. So if there’s a line to wait for a buffet-style lunch, wait until it dies down before you dig in. You’ll have time to eat, and you won’t waste any of it standing in a single-file line when you could be meeting some exciting people or joining a table of experts you’ve been wanting to meet.
4. Follow the Twitter feeds and hashtags in advance
Following the social media stream (for Big Omaha it’s #BigOmaha) for the conference you are attending in advance will make it easier to find and connect with the people you really want to meet. Follow some people, reply to some people, ask people some questions, answer some questions…then when you finally meet them in person you sort of have a foundation already and you’ve built some trust.
5. Put together something cool to leave with people
If you have a business card, that’s okay. I always try to do something a little more creative. I like this post and discussion on Robert Scoble’s blog about business card best practices. Flickr has more creative inspiration like the “Nice Package” and “Crafty Packages” groups.
6. Go to the parties
They’re fun, you’ll meet people, get your picture taken, and get free stuff. Parties are usually open to the public, so if you couldn’t snag a ticket, you can still drop in and absorb some of the energy and make some connections. And put your phone down while you’re having a cool conversation.
7. Be kind
You’re being recorded all the time–whether it’s literally by a photographer or videographer (which are everywhere), or just in the memories of everyone around you. Don’t be a jerk, remember to use your magic words, and share a thoughtful compliment when you can. You’re always broadcasting your brand, and people always remember the very good and very bad.
Finally, follow up with people you meet. Whether it’s informally through Twitter, or via e-mail–I’ve even snail-mailed people little packages before–just send the people you connected with a little shout to thank them for the friendship. Ask for help when you need it and be open to people who reach out to you.
I love going to Big Omaha because being an artist is not only creative, it has a lot to do with running a business. And as an entrepreneur, I’m excited to attend an event where I can meet other entrepreneurs and forward-thinkers who do work in creative industries. Big Omaha is my favorite conference because they do this so well, emphasizing business and technology and welcoming the artists, musicians, and designers, and writers–people who may normally be in the minority at conferences like this.
So that’s it.
I hope I see you at Big Omaha! I’ll be there with a posse–Sarah Lorsung-Tvrdik, my business partner, Shannon, my assistant, and my husband David who recently started a video game design company is coming too. I’m definitely dragging them all up to the front row with me. I hope you say hi when you see me, and I look forward to making lots of new friends!