First: before you schedule any one-on-ones at EAG (or wherever you are), think about what you want to get out of them/the conference in general. This post includes some sample goals to consider. What your goals are will pretty much dictate what one-on-ones will be most valuable for you.
I'm coming at this as someone whose primary goal for EAGs has generally been to clarify my career plans, and secondary goal has been to make more EA friends, so my advice will likely be skewed towards that.
Who should I meet with?
I usually find myself scheduling three types of one-on-ones
1. People who have a clear connection with my interests or projects (~70%)
2. Peers who share similar personal interests, hobbies, etc. (~20%)
3. People working in areas I don't know much about but would like to learn more about and could plausibly see as changing my mind about a particular cause area / career option / etc. (~10%)
You can also get more people to schedule one-on-ones with you by filling out your conference app profile in full and including a couple things you're interested in talking with people about. Also, if you're using the Grip app, indicate "Interested" on other attendees' profiles. The more you do this, the more meeting requests you'll likely get!
What's the best way to score a meeting with someone I want to talk to? (especially if I don't have any immediately useful skills or knowledge to share)
First, speaking from experience, I find that EAs are more likely than average to hold a meeting with you even if you don't have anything tangible to offer them. When you think about it, by helping you have more of an impact, they're also increasing they're own impact, which is motivating for most EAs. Don't let not having anything to offer immediately keep you from reaching out to someone you think you could have a valuable conversation with!
That said, when you ask someone to meet, it helps if you add a sentence or two about what you'd like to talk about / why you think they'd be useful to talk to. This helps them prepare for the call better and (from anecdotal evidence) makes you more likely to get a response since they know exactly how the call will be useful for you/them.
What if someone I really want to talk to doesn't respond? Should I follow up?
IMO, it depends, and it helps if you can read some non-obvious social cues here (or can get advice from someone who can).
Some things that have worked for me and others:
- Offering to meet (perhaps virtually) later in the week / the following week, in case the person has a full schedule during the conference weekend
- Meeting during their office hours (another thing first-timers are sometimes intimidated by but is actually really useful!)
What do I say? What sorts of questions should I ask?
This varies quite a bit based on what you want to know. Whatever that is, you'll want to spend some time thinking about this before.
If you're totally new to one-on-ones, a quick Google search on sample informational interview questions will help get you started.
If you're the type of person who gets anxious about one-on-ones, I find it helpful to run through the conversation in my head mentally ahead of time, jotting down points I want to talk about / questions I want to ask. My conversations don't usually follow the script in actuality, but it soothes my nerves a bit to have something to fall back on in case the conversation lulls.
Also helps to have a few pocket small-talk questions handy, particularly EA-specific ones. Things like "how did you get involved in EA?" and "what cause areas are you most excited about?"
What should I do after the conference? Should I follow up? How often/in what way?
EAG is a bit more informal than most conferences, so I find that the rules are a little more relaxed. It's pretty typical to friend EAs on Facebook after the conference to keep in touch. It's also nice to send a quick thank you email/message after the conference, especially to people more senior than you, and let them know down the line how you've used their advice.
One last thing: If one-on-ones are nerve-wracking for you, you're not alone! As someone who had my first in-person interactions at EAG a year ago, I wasn't sure what to expect meeting with EAs for the first time, but I've found EAs to be incredibly helpful and friendly. And, if for whatever reason, if you find your experience to be anything less than that, CEA has an awesome community health team available to help you out. :)