The key to transforming the sector isn’t data. It’s relationships.

I’m looking forward to attending Transform the Sector - the first stop on the Data on Purpose | Do Good Data World Tour - this week in Toronto.

While the agenda is compelling and the speaker list exciting (I’m looking forward to finally be meeting my online data-for-good crush Lucy Berholz IRL) - what I’m really looking forward to is connecting and building relationships with other people who are driving social change in communities across Canada and around the world.

Why? Because when it comes right down to it, the real key to transforming the sector isn’t data. It isn’t a new policy announcement by a government minister. And it isn’t that fancy new tool or online platform. Sure you might need to say that it’s one of those things to your boss to get approval to register for a conference, but as my work with the Community Knowledge Exchange and countless reminders by the do-gooding uber-networking guru Paul Nazareth have proven,  the key to doing anything is building meaningful relationships with people.

With that, I’d like to share six tips for building meaningful relationships with people at Transform the Sector. (Why 6? Check out the CKX blog as I take this opportunity to shamelessly promote our recurring #CKX6 feature sharing tools, tips and resources for social change)

  1. Bring your whole self to the conference. What is it that makes you who you are? All too often we try too hard to “present” ourselves a certain way in certain spaces. While there’s merit in putting in an effort, don’t try to be someone that you’re not. It’ll be easier to connect with people (and they’ll remember who you are!) if you’re not worrying about what people might be thinking about you (hint: They’re probably too worried about what you’re thinking of them to worry about you anyways).  

  2. Do your homework. Who’s coming? Whose work are you interested in? Who do you want to meet? Sign up to be included on the attendee list on Sched. Then scan the attendee and speaker list in advance and note the people who you a) want to meet and b) reconnect with. I sometimes scan LinkedIn or Twitter to see if I have any shared connections or interests with people I want to meet. It’s an easy way to strike up a conversation and if that shared connection is going to be at the conference - ask them to introduce you. Michael - you’re on deck for that introduction to Lucy!

  3. Get social. This doesn’t meet burying your nose in your phone for the entire conference, but paying attention and following hashtags, speakers and fellow attendees is a great way to make connections. Easy on the blanket RT’s. Be sure to add context and commentary when sharing someone else’s posts. And have your charger ready to share.

  4. Be present. You or your organization paid good money for you to attend. Don’t check out by checking emails or voicemails. I make it a rule to avoid responding to emails during the day at a conference. Sure you can check to see what’s coming in, but unless there’s some kind of philanthropic emergency (and there never really is) my inbox can wait. Engage in the sessions. Spend the breaks and lunch time chatting with people or reflecting on what you’ve learned. There will always be more email to answer.   

  5. Change it up. Don’t always head back to the same table or spot after a break. Sit somewhere else. Get in line for lunch behind someone you don’t know. Resist the urge to sit with your colleagues or workmates. It’s hard I know. But why should you do it? Because you never know who you might end up meeting. I landed my first job in the nonprofit sector after a woman in front of me in line at a powdered-egg-breakfast fundraiser told me about a little website called CharityVillage.

  6. Follow up. The end of the conference doesn’t mean that your relationship-building is done. Don’t forget to sort through those business cards, send those emails and make those connections on LinkedIn!

So there you have it, my unofficial #CKX6 list on conference networking for social change. Have any of your own to share? Share them  on the socials with #sectortransfrom17

See you soon,