how I learnt to stop worrying and love talking to strangers

Today I attended a conference run by Digital Doughnut. I knew they did digital, I knew they were related to marketing, and I did meet people who worked in the field. But what blew my mind was the stories, backgrounds and odd serendipities (is that a word?) that brought them to marketing in the first place.

The conference itself was about ideas. The concept (what is an idea?), the process (how can you have more ideas?), and the delivery (how can you make ideas into real stuff?). I’m oversimplifying, I know. Thing is, it was a fantastic topic! I ended up chatting at length with Michael, who acted as compère and is really the content director, who told me that the speakers were a result of personal acquaintances and invitations extended to awesome people they knew.

amusing, thought-provoking, useful, inspirational topics

As a result, we had some unbridled presentations on internal crowdsourcing at the BBC, how the Wimbledon wiggle (don’t ask, google it) for Evian was created, a showcase of verve and oasis album covers by their creator (and how they were made!), tips on productivity (a “pomodoro” is good, but a 90-min session is better), and the ever-quotable “Yes, instead of talking to my partner or kids, let’s see what can stress me out today” snark-bite about checking emails.

It was…. great!

I’d go again, in a split second. Heck, I’d stay in freelancing, just so I can tell people “can’t, sorry, I’m attending a conference”, and spend a day listening to incredible people talk about their ideas, tell me their stories, show me what they’ve done and (a UX architect’s holy grail) how they did it!

but… aren’t I an introvert?

For someone who recognised many a trait when reading a book about introversion, I did rather well today. I don’t normally feel comfortable talking to strangers. One time, I literally ran out of a space full of people, because I knew nobody. It was a conference. The topics and keynote speakers were mind-blowing. Gamification, by Jane McGonical. (the link goes to wikipedia. Need I say more?) I could have talked to plenty of people, but I just ran. That’s me, really. Shy, uncomfortable interrupting people, always prefers to listen…

not when I’m talking to Engineers!

The oddest thing about today? Nearly every single person I ended up talking to at length, with the exception of the photographer, was an Engineer. I’m not kidding. Compère and journalist? Engineer. Digital agency director at TheMarketingHeaven.com ? Engineer. Head of Digital for transformation projects? Engineer. Web marketing innovation? Ok, so he did literature… Can’t win them all! I spent several years doing hard maths and learning how to solve problems. As a result I feel very fraternal towards everyone who chose a similar brain-teasing path.

I loved how the aeronautical engineer, seeing that there is only one way to skin a cat when it comes to airplane design and that no excitement was hiding there, ran off and ended up in digital marketing. How a physicist / chemical engineer who realised he hadn’t enjoyed his degree as much, and wanted to write, became a journalist, and is now mostly involved with new media. That the digital marketing director of a company helps run a “decompression” group for burning man attendees. He’s been 4 years in a row! Or that the photographer’s baking blog gets much more traffic than his photography blog, and how he can always tell when someone is about to laugh. (my sewing blog also gets more traffic than this blog…).

it’s about the people, and not just the ones on the stage

In short, the people who were on stage today talking about what they’ve done were inspirational. And I found that the people listening to those guys were too! It’s not often that I want to talk to random strangers. Today it was more like “ooh, this one’s on twitter! Ooh! That’s cool! Hey, wonder what this other guy has got to say!”. Complete with nerdy, youthful, very yahoo!-circa-1995 exclamation marks, and totally American Psycho-worthy business card swapping action. And somehow, that got me to 12 straight hours of listening to or talking about absolute awesomeness.

Sign up for their next event, and see for yourself!

my secret

As for my secret for how today went well? Foursquare and Twitter.

I noticed a greek name having checked in on foursquare, as I was doing my checkin at the Royal Geographical Society. Found him on twitter. Exchanged some messages.

Then I searched for the conference hashtag and found the camera-slinging photographer (a stand up guy!) being mentioned. Messaged him too. So when the first break hit, I had two people I could accost.

That was my secret. I stalked attendees on social media… Shameful, I know.
But that’s what it’s for, isn’t it? Connecting people. (I do hope that’s not trade marked!)