The Importance of Being Welcoming

Conferences have been a fundamental part of me becoming a professional developer. Having a network of people you know personally in a professional context is a huge advantage. It helps getting jobs, they help you think through problems, and it’s important to help you identity as a member of the community.

There’s a problem though. It can be hard to integrate into these groups when you first show up. Even with a huge amount of conference experience, going to new events with new communities is nerve racking.

A few years ago, I learned a really important thing that conference organizers can do to make this easier.

Encouraging Courage

The hardest part for me is walking up to a group of people that I don’t know, or that I do know, and respect. I will generally default to sitting by myself or staring at my phone, instead of joining a conversation that would likely be quite interesting.

This all changed at XOXO. In the opening address, they explicitly gave me permission to join and interrupt groups of people.

This turned the interaction model on it’s head. I now boldly joined new groups, knowing that it was my job at the conference to do this. As a proper conference attendee, it was encouraged and expected of me.

As a member of a group chatting, it also made it much easier to welcome someone into the conversation. It set the tone and expected behavior for everyone at the event.

3 + 1 = <3

Similar to a Code of Conduct, giving people permission to act in ways that makes the conference more valuable is a fundamental role of the organizer.

I now do this at every conference I organize. Telling people how to act, and giving them permission to interact, fundamentally changes the conference experience.

Hey there! I'm Eric and I work on communities in the world of software documentation. Feel free to email me if you have comments on this post!