Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Hack Your Hellos: the Unofficial Way to Meet Someone New at AAM This Year

Everyone always says that the best part of conferences happen off the official schedule. Hallway conversations. One-on-one meetings. Late night adventures. 

This may be true. It's also incredibly frustrating--especially if you are new to a field or if networking sounds like a creepy, painful experience. If the best part of the conference isn't on the agenda, how the heck are you supposed to access it?

I'm getting ready for the American Alliance of Museums conference later this month. In addition to reconnecting with old friends and mentors, I want to meet people who aren't on my radar who will help me learn and grow. 

Last year, my colleague Elise Granata and I set up a very simple LinkedIn group to help people make productive connections at AAM. Here's how it works:
  • Join the LinkedIn group (if you are searching, it's called "Hack Your Hello's at AAM"). 
  • Post the question or issue that you want to discuss.
  • In the "add more details" section, list your contact info and availability during the conference.
  • Contact people who share your interests and set up meetings with them. (Hint: you can do this even if you are not going to the conference.)
That's it. Easy. It worked decently well last year, and I hope it might be even better in 2015.

If you are going to AAM and want more tips on what to check out, I suggest:

Download the mobile app. It's a bit clunky, but very useful for coordinating your schedule, especially while you are onsite. It's most valuable when you are in a lousy session and want to see what else is going on. Scroll, stand up, and get to something better.

Use your feet. There's a ton going on at all hours. Don't be afraid to leave a bad session for something else.

Follow people, not topics. So many session titles sound alike. How can you tell if you want to go to "Museums and Communities" or "Museums and Social Issues" or "Museums and Very Cute Lizards"? My solution is that when I find a person who fascinates me, I find out what else they are talking about and follow them. In this way, I've found my idols / mentors /friends--and learned a lot from their inspiring sessions.

Go to at least one session on something you know nothing about. Good for learning new things, discovering new mentors, and reconnecting with why you never want to work in that part of the building.

Hack your nametag. If you have to wear a nerdy nametag, make it work for you. Add a question, a twitter handle, or a quote that's important to you. People will ask you about it, engage with you around it. Instant wearable social object.

Get in touch with people before the conference and set up a meeting, meal, or walk. Hence the LinkedIn group. One of the reasons I like AAM is that it's a behemoth of a conference--so many people are there. Get in touch. Meet them. Learn. Repeat.

If you want to hear more about my work at AAM, I'll be speaking:
  • Monday April 27 at 2:30pm in a solo talk on "Building Stronger Communities" at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History. This is the first time I've had 30 minutes on my own at AAM, and I intend to use it to talk about a few non-obvious lessons from the community-based work we are doing in Santa Cruz. 
  • Tuesday April 28 at 1:45pm in the "Museum Incubators" session, talking about how our teen program empowers youth to lead social change in our community and push our museum forward politically. This session is hosted by engagement rockstar Kathleen McLean. Kathy's sessions are always honest, fascinating, and fun.
  • Wednesday April 29 at 10:45am in the "Potluck Programming" session, talking about engagement offsite with brilliant colleagues from the Queens Museum, FIGMENT, SFMOMA, and Nelson-Atkins.
Enjoy the conference - or at least the LinkedIn group. I hope it helps igniting fruitful conversations.
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