My Mad Dash to Organize a Happy Hour at ODSC
As a community builder or developer advocate, conferences are a great way to deepen relationships, foster new connections, or facilitate collaboration. However, most of us are faced with fewer resources or bandwidth than in years past — whether that's tighter budgets, smaller teams, or quicker turnaround.
Having tighter resources doesn't mean your event strategy must go to nothing completely. Here's how I get scrappy and use tools like WhatsApp and strategic co-conspiring to maximize the impact of the conferences I'm attending.
Let's dive into how I threw an eleventh-hour happy hour at the Open Data Science East (ODSC). Picture me, stuck in the midst of a sea of developers, data scientists, and people who use the term 'machine learning' more than they say 'hello.'
I'm an open source developer community advocate working in data labeling — these are my type of people. And I wanted to keep the conversation going, in my experience, that's how the collaboration happens.
Embrace the Occasionally Awkward in Favor of Connection.
If you're looking to throw any sort of event — even more so if it's a last-minute day of the event — you can't be afraid to make friends with a few strangers. You're going to have to connect with folks outside of just the usual "Hey, can I connect with you on LinkedIn?" kind of connection. Facilitate deep, meaningful connections, like asking about their favorite Python library or something new they learned at the conference they're excited to nerd out about. (Don't be afraid to make it specific to the event you're at! Many times we're all just looking for a reason to geek out.)
I know it can be awkward at times. Personally, I just lean into it — we're all here for a similar reason, and we've all likely been a little out of touch when it comes to networking IRL. Acknowledging that we're all still learning to 'people in person' again is a good first step.
Ask the Locals
If you're traveling out of your own stomping grounds — it can help to find someone who is aware of the local scene and where folks like to hang out or connect (or has space and is close to the venue). Thank you to local conspirator Evan, who recommended Cheeky Monkey Brewing in Boston, MA, for the event at ODSC. It was a dream location; with food, drink (alcoholic and NA options), and a good activity we could keep the conversation going throughout — Ping Pong.
Find a Co-Conspirator
It can be a lot to arrange these events solo — finding someone who will help create the hype AND drive folks to the location is essential. You need a right-hand man (or woman). So I found a co-conspirator — thanks, Moran! She was my partner in crime in inviting folks to the getting folks excited. We were like a pair of social directors on a nerdy cruise ship, rallying the troops and spreading the word.
Be Cautious of Over Engineering
Sure, there are a lot of tools to run events out there — but when doing something scrappy, be cautious of over-engineering it. The tech world might be complex, but the tools we use daily make communication easy. For simple group chats — WhatsApp is a personal favorite.
It's fairly widely adopted and has a convenient 'Add to Group Chat' QR code feature, which allows for rapid addition to the group chat. And let's be honest — if you've been scanning QR codes on badges all day, what's one more QR code to scan outside of a menu?
I whipped out my phone, fired up WhatsApp, and quickly created a home base for this rapid response team for this last-minute shindig. I felt like I was back in high school, passing notes in class, except the notes were invitations to a happy hour, and the class was a conference full of data geeks.
Let the connection flow
In the end, our last-minute happy hour was a hit. The beer flowed, the ping pong balls flew, and we built deeper connections with one another — building off of new discoveries and lessons learned throughout the day. It was a beautiful, chaotic, wonderfully-nerdy mess. And I wouldn't have had it any other way.
So the next time you find yourself in the middle of a conference tasked with organizing a last-minute event, remember my story. Embrace the chaos, keep it simple, find a partner in crime, and for a few extra bonus points, make sure there's ping pong.
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