I’m going to tell you about a conference I attended in June — why it was so awesome and how you can make the most out of upcoming conferences.
The NCTech4Good Conference was one of the best conferences, if not the best, I’ve ever attended. First, let’s get some logistics out of the way.
The NCTech4Good Conference is organized annually by NCTech4Good.
NC stands for North Carolina, where the group is based.
NCTech4Good is part of NetSquared and NTEN, organizations that bring together nonprofit technologists locally to share best practices and support each other's work. NCTech4Good also holds monthly meetups in North Carolina.
And now, the good parts:
Connect With People Before You Arrive: One of NCTech4Good’s organizers asked NetSquared and NTEN organizers to her apartment the day before the conference to discuss our work. As co-organizer of NetSquared DC, I was lucky enough to be invited. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but at the risk of writing something very cliché, I will say, I was blown away by how impressive and fun these organizers are. I guess you want to know why? In brief, I found dedication, passion, wit, fun, connection, life, spontaneity, and people who were enthusiastic about creating nonprofit technology communities in their respective areas. Talk about inspiration!
Motivating Others is a Big Skill: We also talked via Skype with our NetSquared organizer in Vancouver, British Columbia. (To add a little more confusion, NetSquared is a project of TechSoup Global, and our organizer’s role is to help us). He's one of those guys that fits his role perfectly — fun, organized, charming, super responsive, and very helpful. So you can’t help but be motivated to organize.
Attend the Pre-Conference: Going into the conference the next two days, I knew many of the organizers so I felt more comfortable. It was no longer just another conference; I was invested in its success. This helped me initiate conversations with other attendees. I hope it worked for the NCTech4Good organizers too because when I met new people from the local area, I'd talk up the regular monthly meetup group and encourage them to attend.
Get to Know People: You have to be ready for a conference — ready to talk to people and step outside your comfort zone. You're not just paying to sit there and soak up a lecture. Conferences are places to network and learn from participants, not just speakers. Follow up with people on Twitter, and make sure you pay attention to the conference conversation here as well.
Have Fun, and Help Others Have Fun: The first day was a workshop on one topic — data. Chris Tuttle, who runs Tuttle Communications, taught the class, and he was so fun, I ran to get in the selfie he was taking to tweet. Usually I run the other way. But it was exciting. He made data exciting. Plus, he let us work together in groups, he paid attention to what types of data we were interested in, and he customized the training.
Find Great Speakers Who Also Go the Extra Mile: Another thing about Chris — he chatted with people during the lunch and happy hour, and he was one of the very last to leave the second day. Plus, he attended other workshops and tweeted about other speakers. He didn't have to do any of this. He chose us over any number of things he could have been doing. Chris also gave the keynote speech, and said some very thoughtful things I (re-)tweeted on: Innovation, innovation again, time, and fundraising.
Prepare and Over-Prepare: The conference ran smoothly, including interactive sessions, amazing food, and wonderful vendors (including a rockstar booth, where you could pose for photos, which lightened the atmosphere) and time for networking (including two great happy hours). Plus, the second day, following unconference style, anyone could pitch a session to teach that day.
Diversify Your Skills: I attended workshops on topics I was less knowledgeable about, including data visualization, and using Wikipedia for marketing. In the past, I’ve gone to many interesting looking sessions, only to find out I could have taught the class. Nobody’s fault, but my own confidence here.