Tag Archives: Online Communities

Secret diary of an introverted “extrovert”

Cut out the chit chat and get down to business

Sone dudes engaged in serious all you can eat ...
Some dudes eating wings:  photo: mvndrvrt

I wrote this piece for Sanera Camp, a small business blog  run by my friend Alicia Arenas.   The original title was “4 Tips For People Who Don’t Like Networking”.   Basically, it offers up some ideas on how I use social networking to meet people virtually and enhance my personal networking experience.

It also helps cut down on the bullshit chit chat.  Check it out if you haven’t already seen it over at Sanera Camp.  Be sure to check out the other great content for small business and business leaders over there as well, including my buddy Dave Ryan.

How To Network In A Connected World

Networking is a critically important business skill.  We all network in some way, even if it is just saying hello at the coffee machine, or nodding a silent greeting to the convenience store clerk when buying gas.   It matters to people when you remember them, and take to the time to acknowledge them.

There is great value in a network.  As the old saying goes. you never know how the next person you meet may change your life.  People know this, and want to make their networks work for them, yet many struggle at doing so.

Some people are great at  building a Rolodex and working it.  Other people never forget a name and a face.  Working a room comes naturally to a lucky few, but many people struggle when it comes to developing new contacts, or forming relationships in new business sectors.  I include myself in that group.   I stink at cold calls and making meaningless small talk, which are the first steps in building a networking relationship.  I am much better at networking when I know something about the people I am meeting or the event I am attending than I am when it is a cold room.  I’ve had to learn how to get around this issue in order to be an effective networker.

Become acquainted before the meeting

Here’s one method I use that’s worked really well to help me overcome my own shortcomings.

I’m a big proponent of social media tools.  I use them all the time.  They allow me to form relationships with people on-line before we meet in person.  When we do meet, it is more like becoming more acquainted than it is like meeting someone for the first time.   This is especially effective if you have a professional group membership or some other interest in common with these folks.

It doesn’t always work that way though, right?  Sometimes you need to break into a new space, or need to attend a conference where you don’t know anyone.  Believe it or not, there are tools available to help you get around this.  I use them all the time.  Here are few of them I really like.  You’ll need to poke around a little on each of these sites, and will need to create an account for them to be really helpful.  All of them are great tools for finding meetings you may want to attend, or for finding out if you know anyone that is planning to attend.   They are also great tools for creating your own groups or meeting events.

4 Tools For Networking

  • Plancast – is  a great way to discover events, manage your social calendars or meet people with similar interests.
  • Meetup –  is the world’s largest network of local groups. Meetup makes it easy for anyone to organize a local group or find one of the thousands already meeting up face-to-face.
  • Eventbrite – helps people discover events that match their passions, and let’s them share the events they’re creating or joining, bringing more people together around the world.
  • Lanyrd –  lets you see what your friends are going to or speaking at, find conferences near you or browse conferences by topic.

All of these tools have mobile apps as well. All will help you network more effectively if you incorporate them into your personal toolkit.  Happy connecting!!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Don’t forget about the #TwEATOut



Calling All Bloggers: Join the TwEAT OUT!

Chefs & Culinary


What are you doing September 17th? Join us all day on Monday, September 17th and TwEAT OUT on behalf of Share Our Strength’s Dine Out For No Kid Hungry! Our goal is to spread awareness about Dine Out For No Kid Hungry with more than 2,000 bloggers and tweeters. We have a lot of support, but we still need help!

If you have a blog, we encourage you to post a blog like this one asking your network to participate in the TwEAT OUT:

Here is the scoop:

Restaurants have done their part by signing up to participate in this year’s Dine Out For No Kid Hungry. Now we need your help in making sure that you, your friends, and your family make the event a success by visiting participating restaurants September 16-22.

To start the week with a bang, we’re holding a TwEAT OUT all day on Monday, September 17th. Join in the fun and help spread the word about Dine Out For No Kid Hungry on Twitter and Facebook!

When: Monday, September 17, 2012 | 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. EST

How to Participate:

On Twitter:
Follow @Dine_Out and @NoKidHungry.
Retweet messages about the Dine Out For No Kid Hungry from these two accounts.
Use the hashtag #NoKidHungry in all your tweets
Share this tweet:

I’m dining out for #NoKidHungry this week. Join me by finding a participating restaurant in your area: http://dineout.nokidhungry.org/maps

On Facebook:
“Like” No Kid Hungry

Share news about Dine Out For No Kid Hungry with your Facebook friends:

I’m dining out this week for Share Our Strength’s Dine Out For No Kid Hungry. Join me by finding a participating restaurant near you! http://dineout.nokidhungry.org/maps

Enhanced by Zemanta

#HREvolution wrap: Hey, I’m being followed by monkies!

Rhesus Macaque Macaca mulatta in Chameli Van a...
Image via Wikipedia

 Wrapping HR Evolution from Atlanta

Forget the monkey reference, I just need a title….no wait, I am going with the monkey theme after all.  

#HREvolution is more fun than a barrel of monkies!  I really enjoyed my second swing through the trees with HR Evolution.  Great opportunities for networking, connecting, and learning.

 Here are the things I especially enjoyed:

The CHRO in the room

I am pretty convinced that Liz Gottung, CHRO of Kimberley Clark didn’t weigh 800 pounds, but for me she was the gorilla in the room coming into the event.  I was very curious to see how having a CHRO as an ‘un-keynote speaker” would work.    I remeber somebody sugegsted the idea of inviting CHRO’s to attend several months ago on the LinkedIn group.  Whoever you were/are – sheer effin’ genius, my firend!   Ms. Gottung gave us a candid view of her HR organization from the inside, pointing out warts and blemishs right along with the great accomplishments.   She shared with us that she didn’t know what she had gotten herself into when she frst accepted the invitation to to speak, and that she was a bit confounded.    She prepped by reading blogs, and most importantly for my money, stayed at the conference for the entire day, as well as having two staff members in attendance.    She also provided the best oment of the conference for me when at the end of the event she shared the feeling that she had been missing a lot of grat ideas and talent by not being aware of the HR social madia space, and the best line of the show: “I feel much more hopeful about the state of our profession today than I did yesterday.”

Personally, I hope she tells other CHRO’s about us and our online community.   I also hope to see an @LizGottung Twitter account soon so I can talk to her more!

Doing the HR Slam

 The HR Slam session was my favorite  of the four that I attended. Put together by my pals Charlie Judy and Mary Ellen Slater, a bunck of us were locked in a cage and challenged to conduct a group problem solving exercise for Taco Time, a real business located in Wyoming.   The outcomes were widely varied, heavily discussed and really a lot of fun to take part in.   Beyond the practice at problem solving,  the real value in this exercise was seeing and hearing the many different approaches people from the same field brought to bear in solving this problem.   There was a lot of scope creep, some strong differences in perception, and a lot of non-HR related solutions being thrown around.  There were also a lot really great HR solutions brought forward.

  I was little dismayed at the rather condescending way many of the people in the room viewed the roles of the restaurant workers.   Otherwise, it was a terrifc session.   The experience could easily be repleciated, and improved.  I hope we see more sessions like this one at other events.   One idea for Charlie and Mary Ellen, next time, get the real life client involved in the session for fact gathering. Think webcam and skype to give the consultants real time access.

Friends old and new

There is no better event in the HR industry for connecting face to face and building your network.   I met and reconnected with more great people than I can mention here.  If you missed this event, there will be another in 2011;  HREvolution Fall 2011 will be in Vegas, wrapped around the HR Tech Show, which as Eric Winegardner said in a tweet this morning should be #epic.   Also be sure check out the various HR Evolution blog posts over at the MonsterThinking blog.

Speaking of EWMonster, he’s the top banana in my book!

I told Eric this personally on Saturday afternoon,and it bears repeating; thanks for everything you and Monster do to support our HR social community, and the HR profession in general.  I don’t think that I know any one individual who does more to support the community and the HR profession than you do, and I salute you for it. (even though I didn’t win the iPad!)   Thanks again, Eric.

I hope none of you had your picture taken at Cheetah’s in Atlanta.   

Good night now!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Spotlight your event on SlideShare

SlideShare and Hashtags go together like…

I just got a really awesome tip in my mailbox from the fine folks at SlideShare.  Their email mentions a great new service for people wanting to promote the speaker content of their event, after the event is over.   You can get see the specific details below, but the basic idea is to further incorporate the use of your event hashtag to promote speaker presentations by posting them on SlideShare and getting each speaker to tag their presentation with the event hashtag.

This is a solid idea, people.   Check it out!

Event spotlight shines the light

We’re always happy when event organizers encourage presenters to post their slides on SlideShare.  In our new ‘Event Spotlight’, presentations from a conference or meeting are given a place where they can leverage the visibility of our home page.  If you are presenting or planning and event, be sure to tell presenters to add a consistent hashtag when they upload their presentation to SlideShare.   Give them the same hashtag as what you’re using on Twitter.  Word Camp Phoenix is a great example of how presentations from a variety of sources are now easy to find on SlideShare – thanks to the tag #wcphx2011.

PHP Benelux

The PHP Benelux 2011 conference gave their presenters the tag #phpbnl11, allowing attendees, and people who were not able to attend the event, access to the presentations.  Speakers love the Event Spotlight for the visibility and exposure it gives them as a presenter. And what a great way to build buzz and momentum for your next event.  We’re glad to put you in the spotlight!

We’re always happy when event organizers encourage presenters to post their slides on SlideShare.  In our new ‘Event Spotlight’, presentations from a conference or meeting are given a place where they can leverage the visibility of our home page.  If you are presenting or planning and event, be sure to tell presenters to add a consistent hashtag when they upload their presentation to SlideShare.   Give them the same hashtag as what you’re using on Twitter.  Word Camp Phoenix is a great example of how presentations from a variety of sources are now easy to find on SlideShare – thanks to the tag #wcphx2011.
PHP BeneluxThe PHP Benelux 2011 conference gave their presenters the tag #phpbnl11, allowing attendees, and people who were not able to attend the event, access to the presentations.  Speakers love the Event Spotlight for the visibility and exposure it gives them as a presenter. And what a great way to build buzz and momentum for your next event.  We’re glad to put you in the spotlight!

Enhanced by Zemanta

LinkedIn beta test makes LI Groups visible, searchable, shareable

Image representing LinkedIn as depicted in Cru...
Image via CrunchBase

I got the following message in my LinkedIn mailbox the other day:

 I am pleased to announce that LinkedIn has selected Social Media Marketing as a beta group for open discussion, a new feature. This means that all future discussions will be fully visible, searchable, and shareable on the Web. Since we are all about social media, having our discussions shared IN social media only makes sense, right? Right, and about time!

All past discussions are now closed in a members-only archive. Any comments or responses to postings will be reviewed and moderated by myself and the managers first, so rest assured no inappropriate, off subject, time-wasting or SPAM responses will get through. We will keep the group focused and productive.

I look forward to our future discussions now joining the broader conversation on the wider Web and engaging new social media marketers around the world.

Mike Crosson
Moderator and Publisher

This seems like it will be a big deal  The key operative phrase in the message from Mike Crosson is this: 

“This means that all future discussions will be fully visible, searchable, and shareable on the Web.”

  LinkedIn groups have always been a social media commodity of dubious value.   Some are great. Some are moribund, stale and boring on their best day.    Most have been walled agrdens as well, with the discussion residing primarily inside the community, or embedded in the LinkedIn river of status updates unless the group owner pushed them out via Twitter or Facebook.   Now they can found via search which will change the game a bit.  

 On the down side, it seems like this will create more clutter, and probably have sme impact on SEO and Klout scores for certain people. 

On the upside, it will make the knowledge and expertise that is threaded throught these groups much easier to access via search.

LinkedIn groups may have suddenly become much more viable for building communities, and much more valuable as a place where you want to stake out some social media real estate.  I will be keeping an eye on this beta.

Enhanced by Zemanta

My VIP Royal Welcome at Zappos

I got crowned at Zappos

Last night, I called in to HR Happy Hour and made what has been described on Twitter as “@mikevandervort’s fanboy moment with @jamstar. Very cute.”.  I was raving about a company that everyone knows about, but I was raving about my own personal experience with them.  On #HRHappyHour, I mentioned the tour they gave me in January 2009, and asked Jamie Naughton (@JamStar on Twitter) if they still had the VIP Throne Room.    Happily, she reported that they did.

The throne room is best explained as an office where visitors on tour are offered the opportunity to pick a symbol of royalty like a crown or tiara, and get your picture taken.  Zappos gives you one copy, and hangs the other on their VIP wall.  It i silly and fun, and a memorable part of the Zappos tour experience.

I was going to go with the tiara originally, but switched to the crown at the last second.  I may have to go back and get  tiara shot when I am in Vegas for SHRM 2011.    In response to several requests, here is the photo of me from Zappos.

Michael VanDervort at Zappos January 2009

(Photo by Donovan)

From Drop Box
Enhanced by Zemanta

It all began with one little tweet

Image by Thomas Hawk via Flickr

I ran across a very interesting, still developing case study in social media policy last night that serves as an excellent example of the way human resources will be involved in making decisions about social media behavior in the future.  Please note, what I am writing about here is occurring on the Internet, and I am not a reporter, so I am writing about anecdotal information from blogs.  There could be more to this still developing story, but the lessons are valid nonetheless.

The basic facts of the situation as alleged in the blog PrceChopperFail are listed below.   You can check out the entire Tumblr blog post here, and at least one blog response here.

  1. A customer sends a negative tweet to the Twitter account of a retail store, comparing them in a negative way to a competitor, and stating why they feel that way.
  2. According to the blog, after receiving this complaint, Price Chopper’s public relations team does something incredible.  Using the information listed in the customer’s twitter biography, they allegedly contact the customers  employer, requesting disciplinary action be taken against the individual for their negative post.
  3. According to the Tumblr blog, an email was sent to a list of managers at the customer’s workplace, including the customer’s supervisor by Price Chopper labeled the individual as destructive and negative. The email allegedly  suggests that the negative tweet could jeopardize the relationship between Price Chopper and the company where the individual is employed, and requests that  some kind of action be taken against the individual.

So, this begs the question, how does HR start to deal with issues like this when we start getting complaints about our employees badmouthing companies we have relationships with?  Where do the roles of employee end and customer begin?


I started this blog post last night and stopped writing it when the new Hawaii Five-o started.   (The show is crap so far btw, but I digress)

It turns out that someone from Price Chopper did in fact respond to the tweet mentioned above.  Here is the official series of responses from the people behind @PriceChopperNY in the comments of the Tumblr blog listed above:

My department is responsible for overseeing the Price Chopper Facebook and Twitter page (pricechopperNY) as well as our Consumer Call and e-mail center for customer concerns. While we do address complaints as well as praise, we do so in a manner that reaches out to the customer privately and channels a response through our Consumer Services Response Center. We then bring the issues to the attention of the appropriate individuals or departments at Price Chopper so that we can address the customers’ concerns and/or compliments.

We had no knowledge of this situation until we received tweets just a short while ago. We are currently looking to get details regarding the this post. Once we do, we will be in a position to address the customer’s concerns, as up until now, we had no knowledge of this situation.

Thank you very much for bringing this to our attention. Please be assured we take this situation very seriously.

Heidi Reale
Director of Consumer Insights, Price Chopper Supermarkets

Heidi Reale 8 hours ago in reply to Anthony Rotolo

We have looked into this situation and it does appear that one of our associates did take it upon herself to attempt to engage with this customer as well as the employer using her own twitter account as well as e-mails without the knowledge or consent of Price Chopper.

She wanted to make an apology, which is published below in your comments, because she feels terrible about how she handled this customer service opportunity and wanted to take personal responsibility for this mistake.

Price Chopper also would like to apologize for this associate’s interaction with the customer as this is not how we handle customer concerns. Typically, the concerns or the praise come to us via phone, e-mail, facebook, twitter and blogs. We work hard to personally respond as Price Chopper to every concern that comes directly our way. We do not condone any of our associates reaching out to our customers’ employers as it appears happened in this case.

We are currently working with our associate to coach and counsel her so that she can learn and grow from this mistake. Price Chopper will continue to address all customer concerns regarding our stores and our associates in a personal and professional manner.

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to this unfortunate incident.

Heidi Reale
Director of Consumer Insights

This associate had no responsibility for, or permission from Price Chopper to address customer complaints or the customer’s employer. This is why we knew nothing about it when it was tweeted at us today.

We are sorry for this unfortunate incident and we are working to take the appropriate actions to repair the trust that has been compromised by this associate.

Heidi Reale
Director of Consumer Insights
And then we get to watch the employee who started the whole thing throw themselves under the bus:
Hello –
I want to take this opportunity to accept full responsibility for this situation. I am the Price Chopper employee who triggered this chain of events. I’ve worked in the public relations department at the company for the last two months and I saw the negative tweets and responded through my personal twitter account. This is not the way that Price Chopper normally handles critical comments on Twitter or other social media. What should have happened is that our consumer insights team (the team headed by Heidi Reale) would have directly contacted the customer who had an issue or concern through a Price Chopper twitter account and worked to either resolve it or provide some explanation.

I took matters into my own hands. And though well-intentioned, I clearly went over the line – without the knowledge of our consumer insights people or my direct supervisor, the Vice President of Public Relations and Consumer and Marketing Services. I was trying to understand and engage a disgruntled customer and clearly lost sight of my goal.

I appreciate having this forum to apologize to the individual who made the initial complaint and to make sure that all concerned understand that these actions were not the policy of Price Chopper nor does the company condone them. I made a mistake which will help me grow and, hopefully, further assist Price Chopper in our efforts to better utilize social media to engage our customers.



Oh and the Tumblr blogger, who is apparently engaged in a dialogue with the company and the “miscreant” employee:
I can confirm that the responses from Ameerah and Heidi Reale of Price Chopper are legit. Price Chopper reached out to me directly to express their concerns, and they’ve confirmed that these messages are really from them.
So to recap from one tweet, we get:
  • a bad customer service blog
  • crazy bad social media exposure for Price Chopper
  • nearly 100 blog comments, including the very public handling of an internal company employment issue
  • an employee throwing themselves under the bus over their own bad decision

All I can really say is WOW, and where the heck was HR evident here?

Enhanced by Zemanta

Me and social media before I found Punk Rock HR

Looking back on getting started

What you see below is the fourth blog post I ever wrote for the very first incarnation of Human Race Horses.  I sound  like I am trying to be pompous and grandiose.    I suppose everyone needs to sound like and asshole for a little while until they find their real voice.

Here is what I find interesting about this post today.

  • I was really enthralled with numbers and gaining connections.
  • I saw a lot of significance in the profound changes I was going through.
  • I still talk with some of the people I knew then.
  • I wrote this piece before I had ever heard of Laurie Ruettimann or Punk Rock HR. (I think!)
  • I still haven’t met all those initial objectives.

I just realized today that I have entered my fourth year of blogging.  I actually started the blog on July 14, 2007 with a post called “What does HR have to do with race horses?“, which explains the inspiration for the name of the blog.  Click the link if you haven’t already heard that story.

From the archives:   August 17, 2007

Social Networking and the Flat World

On April 24th, I was in New Century, KS attending a session on using the SAP HR module, and one of my colleagues from Copenhagen, Denmark asked me if I had ever heard of LinkedIn.

“LinkedIn?” I said curiously, “What’s that?”

“I’ll send you an invitation.” My colleague, Nicolai said, and he did.

Since then, approximately 3.5 months has passed. As of 7:42 this morning, through LinkedIn, I have:

· Established exactly 900 connections from all around the globe on LinkedIn.
· Corresponded or talked with a large number of these people
· Found old friends, family members I haven’t seen in years, and networked with a number of former professional contacts.
· I have been contacted by several companies regarding possible job opportunities.
· I have used the site to source experts and vendors for projects for clients

I have also begun to examine the impact my relatively new found interest in social networking has had on me personally, and to ponder the way these tools will affect the Human Resources field in the next couple of years.

I am interested in Social or Open Networking for many reasons. These range from the simple to the complex. The simple question: Who, Where, What, Why, and When can I encounter someone who will assist me or help me grow as a professional and an individual?

The more complex idea: We do indeed live in a Flat World. As a result of this flattening, a convergence of the technological and the sociological aspects of the Internet is occurring that I believe is already vastly influencing and changing the way we do things in our daily lives, as much the development of the Internet and the World Wide Web did in the past few decades.

I am not a technologist or a sociologist, but my professional work is in the field of Human Resources and most of my personal interests revolve around things that involve groups of people. Therefore, I am interested in how this convergence affects my work and my life. I seek to understand how it will work and have jumped into the water with both feet to examine how social networking and Web 2.0 can lead me towards practicing HR 2.0 as a professional, and add value to my personal life by developing networks around the globe for sharing of best work practices, career opportunities, and perhaps even personal relationships in places where they wouldn’t have existed without this medium.

Since April 24, in trying to understand social networking

· I have joined Xing. https://www.xing.com/profile/Michael_Vandervort
· I have joined Ning.
· I have joined Viadeo.
· I have joined Ecademy. http://www.ecademy.com/account.php?id=186529
· I am on Facebook. http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=549337373
· I use Plaxo Plus to keep my finger on the Pulse of all of this. http://pulse.plaxo.com/pulse/events/
· This morning I joined Brijj.com which is a social networking site for India.

This represents around 2000 individuals I am networking with around the world at various levels. One of these people found a job through a referral I made.  Business relationships are currently being developed through the power of LinkedIn connectivity.   I hope to do a live LI event in the Tampa Bay area in October with some colleagues I have met in the HR community to promote these types of tools and the power they bring to your daily life if you learn how to use them.

All of this just scratches the surface.

Oh yes, the other things that have happened in my life since April 24th?

· My company changed hands.
· I became a grandfather.
· I turned 50.
· My wife went to India and back for the second time this year.
· The stock market hit an all time high and then plummeted like someone pulled the plug.
· My daughter went to Mexico for two months and came back.
· Bunches of other stuff too numerous to mention…welcome to the Flat World!

Enhanced by Zemanta

2010 HR Florida Monster Social Tweetup and Networking event, and other stuff!

Monster Social and HR Florida Tweetup to rock Orlando!

A whole bunch of really dedicated folks from HR Florida are working reall hard this month to put the finishing touches on what may the very biggest and best state conference in the United States. 

Where else will you be able to attend a conference where the list of luminaries and speakers will include Dave Ulrich, China Gorman, Robin Koval, and the Fonz Henry Winkler?   You got that right, dudes. Nowhere!

HR Florida and Social Media

The conference will be social media intense, with plenty of pre-conference workshops and concurrent sessions on how companies are putting social media tools to work in human resources, a blog team who will be sharing insights and thoughts from sessions throughout the conference, and also doing a panel discussion on why HR professionals need to understand social media.  I will be moderating the panel.

HR Florida and Voice of HR

I am also very excited that the HR Florida State Council, which represents over 14,000 individual HR members, has partnered with Voice of HR to provide social media services to the 2010 HR Florida State Conference & Expo in Orlando, Florida.

Voice of HR is a subsidiary of New Media Services LLC, founded by Laurie Ruettimann and Mark Stelzner. Voice of HR will assemble a team of highly skilled new media representatives who will provide live Twitter coverage of select sessions and create thoughtful content that summarizes each day of the conference. They will partner with Steve Boese, Founder of HR Happy Hour, to host live radio programming throughout the event.

In addition to providing new media services,Voice of HR will host a booth that will serve as the hub of connectivity, power and social media access for HR Florida attendees. The booth will also offer an opportunity to talk to popular HR social media superstars who can answer questions about social media and Human Resources.

HR Florida and Monster Social Tweetup event

It took a small amount of armtwisting and cashing in some personal favors, but HR Florida was also able to become the first state organization to partner with the fine folks from Monster to bring the Monster Social experience to Orlando.  Details are available here.

We are sure to have a few mroe surprises yet to come. 

2010 HR Florida Monster Social Tweetup and Networking event – Eventbrite

From Drop Box
Enhanced by Zemanta

Over There: A look at SXSW Interactive from the UK

Ever thought of going to SXSW?

I have wanted to attend this event for the past three years.  I hope that I will make it in March 2011.    If I do, I will be part of a small but growing contingent of HR people who are venturing outside the HR conference world to attend these major tech events.   My good friend Jessica from Blogging4Jobs is taking it even further, applying to be a panel speaker with her panel topic entitled The Sexy Side of HR.

Today, I am happy to be able to bring you an “Over There” guest post from James Mayes from Brighton in the United Kingdom. James is a Director at Tweetjobs Ltd, who attended the 2010 SXSW Interactive.  James started in recruitment in 1996.  He spent a decade building expertise in the contingent technology resourcing market, then diversified into managing process and technology change projects, again in the recruitment space.  His most recent career focus has been on the use of Social Media in recruitment, particularly around Twitter.

Here is what James has to share regarding his own personal experience at SXSW Interactive:

James Mayes on attending  2010 SXSW Interactive

I was lucky enough to attend SXSW Interactive earlier this year.  My first visit to a major US conference, my first visit to a more southerly part of the US, my first experience of what happens when 20,000 geeks hit town.  It was a massive event for me and one I feel privileged to have had. I was lucky enough to make some great connections and when this guest post opportunity was presented, I thought perhaps it would be a good chance to reflect back on the experience. After all, it’s primarily a tech conference and I was coming at it as someone with a recruiter’s background and a new business in the social media world. Interesting combination!

The preparation

First and foremost, I wanted to consider the kind of event I was heading to. All the blogs from previous SXSW attendees led me to believe the scale would be unprecedented and a plan of attack would be essential.  First port of call – check out my network for previous attendees and have a chat.  Result: nil.  No-one I knew at the time had attended before, though many wanted to.  Throwing the request out wider proved much more satisfying.  Through some generous souls on Twitter, I was introduced not only to some who’d been before, but also a number of Texans who knew the area, had been before AND planned on going again.  This was superb – insider experience, local knowledge, allies when I got into town. Couldn’t have asked for more. Twitter played a huge part in this and I offer a special hat-tip to @BillBoorman for his part.

First impressions

Huge. Beyond expectation or imagination. My first, my last, my over-riding impression.  I think it’ll blow me away again if I get back there!

I was glad I’d spent time planning – but it was also quickly apparent that no amount of regular “pre-conference homework” would ever be able to cover everything.  Mental adjustment to the environment was going to be an important factor.  Firstly, I simply had to accept that sleep wasn’t going to happen.  The first day made it clear that while the sessions during the working day were superb, they were evenly matched in value by the evening social/networking events.  Bearing in mind the time difference with the UK, I knew I’d be waking up at c.5am most days – and with most of the vendor events running till 2am…. well, you do the math!

I also needed to drop every bit of “baggage” I had. This wasn’t a place to discuss web-now, this was web-future. This was about trying to visualise what could be, supported by technology that didn’t exist, based on ideas about data insights no-one could yet offer.  It’s difficult to do (not sure I completely succeeded), but a completely open mind is certainly needed.

One bit of planning I put some real effort into proved inclusive. The schedules. There are literally hundreds of sessions being run and you won’t get to all.  I tried to identify those most relevant to my professional interests as a first step, then for a second pass, tried to identify those where there’d be a specific individual I was interested in listening to. Certainly, it was time well spent in research mode – but when you actually get into it, you’ll get caught up in the buzz for another panel, or something you’ve planned won’t be as hot as you’d hoped… whatever the reason, if you hit 50% of your planned schedule, you should be pleased!

Key moments

The organisational technology… Twitter started to go mainstream at a previous SXSW event and evidence of this was everywhere. No bad thing, I’d appreciated this in advance and was up to speed. What I hadn’t done was the research on other technologies that were making good ground at that time and thus really getting some attention. Location-based tools have been hot all year, and those who had a good handle on FourSquare or Gowalla certainly found SXSW easier to navigate.

Getting the bar map and party guide was a result.  Not done beforehand as I was focussed on the events during the day, but as clarity struck, I knew I’d need to take a slightly more structured approach to the evenings too!

As per a note earlier, acclimatise quickly to the fluidity and freedom of the workshops – if you can roll with it, you’ll enjoy it far more.  You’ll also take in a few workshops that might not have normally caught your eye, then realise they might actually have something for you after all. Discover something that has NOTHING to do with you – it’s worth it.

My favourite moment though, was the discovery of the Rackspace stand. They were noisy, they had an annoying gimmick to draw people in, it was all very irritating. But it didn’t matter.  Everyone there in a Rackspace t-shirt knew what the firm did. Where the firm wanted to be. They all shared the same passion and conviction and they were all genuine and engaging. If every firm could be represented in that way at events, conferences would be a much brighter place.

In conclusion….

Do it.  If you’re about technology, if you attend events, if you ever run panels or workshops. If you’re interested in hiring the best people in technology, or learning what makes them tick. You might not need to ever go again – but do it once. You’ll be glad you did.

Enhanced by Zemanta