Monday, March 13, 2017

Why we did a speed meet at our conference and why you should too!


At European Testing Conference 2017, we had a full session devoted to a speed meet.

What is a speed meet? At its most basic it's talking to someone new for 5 minutes, then rotating and doing it again 9 times.

Here's what it looked like:


Mind Maps: What do you talk about?

Of course this raises the question of what to talk about? To solve this, we took a suggestion from  Jurgen Appelo and had everyone make a small mindmap about themselves. When you sat down you handed your map to the other person. Therre is a lot of information between the 2 mind maps and people would easily find something that they were interested in. And this is the rather amazing thing about geeks; 

5 minutes to make small talk is terrifying for geeks.
Given a topic they care about 5 hours isn't enough time

Here's an example of one of the participants mind maps:

Why do this?

Conferences are amazing places. It's a great opportunity to mix and talk with many people you wouldn't normally get a chance to interact with. However, if you are new to a conference this can be a overwhelming and terrifying prospect. While most people are friendly after you meet them, strangers never seem that way. We wanted to make it easier to have a good 'hallway track'. After talking to 9 people everyone had at found at least 1 person they liked.  The conference became a lot more friendly. We also heard more things like:

"Kara! Have you met Matt?"


Lunch

Lunch time can be especially uncomfortable if you don't know anyone at a conference. Finding a place when every table is full of strangers already talking? Often we can just try to find a place to hide away and eat quietly. This is why we did the speed met in the morning the first day of the conference. Lunch was right afterwards, and it was nice to know at least 1 person to eat with.
lunch should be friendly, not scary

Details:

Just do it

Structure and lack of choice is your friend here. Notice that while we normally had 3 tracks, we only had 1 during the speed meet. We didn't want to encourage people to skip it. We also spoke to the speakers to encourage them to participate. It can be a special treat for a newbie to get a chance to speak 1 on 1 with a presenter. 
We also didn't do it as an 'optional' morning session. These sessions usually have a very low percentage of the conference attending. For example, many conferences have a lean coffee morning session. But, for a 1000 person conference it isn't unusual to have 20-30 people at these. 


Homework

We gave multiple chances to create the mind maps beforehand 

  • Emailed the day before conference
  • Mentioned at Speakers dinner
  • Mentioned in opening slides for the conference
Nonetheless, there are still a bunch of people how put theirs together as the sessions started. That's ok, it's meant to be quick and easy. We provided lots of paper and pens.

Rotations

I highly suggest a few (4-5) practice rounds of moving 1 seat to the left. It's amazing that if you wait for the seat next to you to become empty ( X 150 people) this can take a few minutes to move people. If everyone stands, moves & sits it takes 3 seconds.  

Early

This sets the tone for the conference. Do it early, not at the end of the conference.



How did it work out?

Excellence! It can be hard to judge the effectiveness of an activity. We do a retrospective and we got many notes about liking it, but is liking it the same as it being good? Maybe they just remember it because it was different?
I had a bit of an advantage as this is the second year for ETC and we could compare it to last year. I also have all the other conference I attend to compare it with.
However, the biggest indicator for me was the party the first night. While it's hard to articulate, it just felt friendlier. People moved between tables more, talked more. The whole atmosphere felt warmer. 

10 / 10 Would repeat!