It feels a little presumptuous for me to write this. After all, I attended my first IAPP conference just a few years ago. I was a student-scholarship recipient, a wide-eyed budding privacy lawyer, and I was entirely unprepared for the scale of the conference. I was so overwhelmed that, though I loved the conference programming, I felt I hadn’t connected with many people. By the time my second IAPP conference came around, I had gathered tips from seasoned veterans, and I felt that I did a much better job maximizing my experience. So in the interest of paying it forward, I’m sharing some of my favorite conference tips here. I hope others will find these useful!
You need a game plan. The massive scale of the Global Privacy Summit makes it overwhelming in every way, and for an introvert like me, it is a total sensory overload. If you don’t come in with at least a half-baked plan, you are bound to end up spinning in circles. I would usually say that there is no “right” way to attend a conference, but after attending a few IAPP events, I can safely say that you need at least the semblance of a plan. Whether that means just highlighting the panels you are most interested in or planning your days down to the minute is totally up to you and your personality. If, like me, you are generally a non-planner, push yourself to be planful for Summit.
Make use of social media. If you have professional social media accounts on LinkedIn or Twitter, use them to your advantage. The privacy community on Twitter is, perhaps surprisingly, a rich source for discussion and a great way to keep up with the latest buzz. (I even drew some of these tips from there.) I’ve found that live-tweeting from a conference session is a great way to make new friends and spark interesting discussions. And LinkedIn is LinkedIn, clunky and kind of terrible, but useful for figuring out who works where and who you know who knows them. By the way, feel free to connect with me, tell me a bit about yourself, and let me know if I can pass your name along to anyone I know. Seriously, I’d love to hear your story!
Make connections broadly. I don’t like talking about “networking.” To me the word sounds emotionless and terrifying. But I think one primary benefit of a conference like Summit is the presence of the other attendees. It’s only a benefit, however, if you actually meet some of them! In my opinion, a lot of the best connections you can make happen in the in-between spaces (between panels, in the hallways, in the exhibit hall, waiting in line for food). You have a common interest with everyone in the building, so try a few times to talk to people in line, ask them what they do, what big issues they are thinking about (you could even tack on, “…besides GDPR…”), or bring up panel topics. If you’re an extrovert then you won’t need to push yourself to do these things. If you aren’t, this is another opportunity to push past your comfort zone for just a couple of days. Luckily, there are also more structured networking opportunities at IAPP conferences. I have really enjoyed the 5-Minute Mixer for meeting a variety of folks. The speed-networking structure generates fun discussions and remarkable chance connections. Also, walking around the exhibit hall during a session (when there are fewer people on the floor) is a great chance to have longer conversations with vendors and others.
Make connections deeply. What I mean by “deeply” is not only that you should build close bonds with other privacy folks — by, for example, grabbing coffee or attending the affinity group After Hours events — but that you should seek out people who share common interests or goals. Find people who work in an area of privacy law that interests you, or do the kind of work that you would like to do, or live in a part of the country where you want to live. Find them in advance, if possible, and reach out to them to plan a meet-up at the conference.
If you reach out cold, warm it up and make it specific. You definitely should reach out to folks you admire or who have the job you want. Privacy pros are generally friendly and happy to offer advice. But whether you connect with them on LinkedIn or Twitter or over email, you should give them a way to feel connected with you as a person. They want to know more than the fact that you like privacy and want a job. My recipe is this: (1) friendly greeting, (2) the authentic reason you think their work is awesome, (3) how their work relates (briefly) to your interests or experiences, and (4) a precise proposal for when and where you’d like to meet them in person, if they have time. (Summit actually has a “Meet-Up Lounge” to facilitate this sort of thing. Plus the hotel foyer, with its Starbucks, is a classic spot.) The worst thing that can happen is they ignore you.
Have an elevator pitch. Summit has a wide variety of attendees from many different organizations. People may not know where you're coming from or what you do. A quick recited blurb gives them some context into why you're interested in privacy and can help spark deeper conversation. Carolina Alonso, an associate at BakerHostetler, who reminded me about this tip, claims that she never would have gotten her job if she hadn’t approached a partner with her elevator pitch at the ready.
Follow-up with people you meet or wish you had met. Historically, I’ve been terrible at this part, but do try to send notes to the folks whose business cards you collect. And whether or not you meet the people you planned to meet at the conference (believe me, plans to meet up fall through constantly at these things), follow up with them afterwards. Remind your new connections a little about yourself and your goals. Don’t be shy about mentioning that you are looking for a job, but don’t make that the entirety of your message (even if the rest is friendly small talk). I’ve taken to writing notes to myself on the cards I collect so I remember a bit about the person or what we discussed. Again, don’t be afraid to reach out to people that feel out of your league! You can even reach out to speakers: send them follow-up questions or let them know how much you appreciated their session.
Don’t panic. Now that I’ve regurgitated all of this, it’s important to note that none of it really matters. You’ll have an awesome time no matter what. In particular, don’t feel obligated to do everything. Listen to your body and take breaks when needed. And when you’re wandering around feeling like you’re an imposter who doesn’t know anything and there’s no way you are cool enough to talk to the people around you, remember… 99 percent of them feel the same way. You totally deserve to be there. (The other 1 percent are probably sociopaths.)
Finally, don’t hesitate to reach out to me with questions before, during, or after the conference. There really are no dumb privacy questions, especially when it comes to finding jobs. See you at the Summit!
Many thanks to Calli Schroeder, Carolina Alonso, Angelique Carson, Julian Flamant, and Brenda Leong for their help in brainstorming these tips.
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