TL;DR: Build in time for random spontaneous interactions with people at EA conferences!

There is a lot of great advice on how to strategically network during EA Globals - and I think it's great to encourage people to be very intentional and goal-oriented with what they get out of the conference. However, I also think that deliberate randomness is also quite valuable (although higher variance).

The chances that I'll randomly meet  cool and interesting people at an EA Global is really, really high. What's more, my deliberate attempts to connect with people will heavily bias me towards :

  1. People
    1. I already know
    2. Who generally share my interests or worldview
    3. Who fill out their conference profiles or are otherwise 'legible'
    4. Who already know (of) me
  2. "Shop talk"
  3. 1-1 interactions (aside from workshops, most interactive EA events like professional or affiliation meetups tend to do 1-1 speed networking sessions)

I find unstructured interactions without any expectations fun and enjoyable and a less intense than back to back 1-1s. I try to budget about 20-30% of each EA conference (sometimes more) for random interactions.

Randomness in practice

I find joining a group of people talking to be an inherently awkward experience. Luckily there are lots of ways EA conferences provide assisted serendipity

Physical Events

  • Attending general speed networking events
  • Not scheduling 1-1s for a 1-2 hours during lunch or dinners. You could join a table at random that has empty spots. You could also sit at an empty table and wait for other braver souls to join you!
  • I've also noticed that conversations tend to happen near water fountains, washrooms & coat rooms (I think this is some combination of common area + lower social expectations + small enough group of people)
  • Cause / Career / Affinity group networking sessions are semi-random
  • Some people find it easy to join conversations that start up in hallways etc.
  • Don't schedule things immediately after talks and speak with the other attendees

Virtual Events

In general, it's harder to have random interactions at virtual events. However, it could still be worth trying! Other than attending networking events, one strategy could be to randomly choose people on the networking app, say hi and let them know that you're trying to meet counterfactually new people. I expect this approach will be much higher variance / more time intensive than the physical counterpart but could be interesting!

Examples

(These are mostly personal examples because I didn't spend too long asking others - if anyone else has some examples, please comment or DM me and I'll add them here! )

  • I became very good friends with someone I met at a dinner group at EA Global, who later became a co-collaborator on a project for Effective Environmentalism
  • David ended up co-writing a paper with Anders Sandberg based on a discussion after a Q&A session at a conference at the Global Priorities Institute.
  • I had a very interesting conversation with an operations person at AMF about their job at my first EAG
  • I have felt more comfortable reaching out to people I've met at least once, so this has expanded the number of people I can ask for help or introduce to others
  • I felt like I belonged to the EA community because the people I met had similar perspectives to me (see here)

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1 comment, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 10:25 AM

I appreciated this - I think being more intentional is really good but there are up/downsides to being more serendipitous, too. Plus, law of opposite and equal advice and all.

I'm guessing this probably depends a bit on an attendee's state and goals - e.g., if someone is feeling a bit drained or has 'achieved' their goal, it might be worth being more open to randomness.