I was very fortunate to attend my first in-person EAG in London in October 2021. Having attended some conferences in the past, I was aware of the risk of feeling isolated and lost, especially considering I haven’t been a part of the EA community very long. Unlike other people, I didn’t have lots of friends to say hello to. I made sure to compensate for this by preparing well. In the end, I had an absolute blast in terms of social interaction and professional benefit. In this blog post I will speak about what preparation I did (including resources, time planning tips and networking), list some tips to make your time at the conference a success, and share what I would do differently next time to make it even more valuable for me and other attendees.
I hope that some tips I shared below will come useful, especially if this is your first in-person EAG or you’d like to have a better experience at your next conference.
I absolutely loved the conference and, even though the preparation appeared to need more time than I originally thought, I felt that the time I invested in both preparing for it and actually going there paid off immensely. I made some super valuable connections and I am totally going to the next EAG :) My top takeaway is you will get out as much out of the conference as you put in, both with preparation and how much you’ll help other attendees.
- Apply even if you’re not sure if you’ll be accepted/if you want to go. Even though I’m an extrovert, I wasn’t sure about going all the way down to London from northern England and sacrificing a whole weekend too, especially during the current pandemic situation. Then one of my friends strongly encouraged me to go, quoting that it will be absolutely invaluable for my career. CEA asks a bunch of questions to determine if you’re a suitable attendee, and the impostor syndrome made me doubt I’ll be accepted. However, I sent my application off and I was so happy I did! I gained so much more than I expected originally and got sponsored to go by CEA too. I enjoyed it so much and the value I got from the conference made me think that I would be happy to have paid for it if I had to.
- Make sure you apply as soon as possible. Even though applying early won’t increase your chances of acceptance, it will maximise your networking opportunities. CEA takes some time to review the application and the longer you have to prepare the better. Also, there are limited spaces, so ideally you want to be among the first ones to be accepted. CEA increased their capacity for that conference, so lots of people got in at the last minute, but by the time you’re accepted you will be in a rush to book everything and won’t have as much time to plan (see more on that below).
Setting priorities for the event
- As soon as you’re sent your acceptance email, go through your priorities for the conference. You can’t go to every speech and talk to everyone, but you can use the 80/20 principle to get the best out of your limited time. If you’re not sure what you want to get out of the conference, it’s worth reading a couple of blog posts about other people’s experiences (like this one) to see if their take-aways can be useful to you too. For example my priorities were:
- Firstly, to put some faces to names, as I met a lot of people online but never in person.
- Secondly, priority was to meet up with some organisational leaders and ask for some advice about running organisations (as I got my first leadership job two weeks before the conference) as well as potentially meet up with anyone interested in insect welfare.
- Thirdly, priority was a broad one: to just have a good time, not get overwhelmed and get new ideas and inspiration from fellow EAs.
- Using these priorities, prepare your pitch. For example: “I just got accepted into the Charitiy Entrepreurship program and I’m looking to hear tips from entrepreneurs and connect with people interested in global health”. It’s worth seeing what kind of results this pitch gives you and tweaking it if people don’t understand it/your pitch doesn’t start conversations.
- If you belong to a particular group, such as global priorities research or entrepreneurs, consider splitting your time 80/20 between your preferred networking group and other people. I spent 80% of the time talking to people interested in farmed animal welfare and felt really satisfied with the outcome as that was what I was actually here for, but it was also great to meet people from completely different fields in the 20% of the time (speed networking can help with that).
- I really liked the tip in this article by Risto Uuk - to have a rough to-do list but not stick to it rigidly to avoid putting too much pressure on yourself. After all, you’re here to also enjoy, not just work. I thought that even if I have one successful conversation in each priority category, that would class as success!
- If this is your first EAG, you are likely to have “just meet interesting people/learn about new ideas” as your first priority. This is ok, but make sure that you actually have activities planned to fulfill this plan. In short, don’t go to the conference and expect that you’ll get a lot out of it without actively engaging. You will only get out as much as you put in!
Planning your schedule
- With your priorities in mind, fill out your profile. Risto Uuk has written about this very well, so there is no need to cover it in this blog.
- Once you’re clear with your priorities, go on the event app/website page and start going through the attendee and agenda’s list. This is such a crucial step and you should aim to spend at least a couple of hours planning your time.
- The article I mentioned says that 1:1s are the most valuable part of the conference and I 100% agree. In our remote world, there is rarely a time where you can have back to back 30 min meetings with such amazing people from all over the world in one venue. However, as it gets close to the conference, people’s schedules fill up. For example, I started sending people invites to meetings about 2 weeks before and everyone had slots free. However, about one week before the conference I was completely booked up, so when people messaged me asking to meet, I could no longer do that, unfortunately, so it ended up being a virtual meet-up. Some people tried to book meetings with me during the conference too - in my opinion it’s already too late to guarantee you a meeting (although worth trying!)
- I didn’t know how valuable 1:1 were, so I went and booked a lot of talks and workshops, hoping to mix the 1:1 up a bit and also to have a good rest from talking. This wasn’t actually as needed as I thought it would be and I received so many meeting invitations from the people I really wanted to meet, that I regretted going to so many talks (you can watch them later online). Furthermore, some rooms are so big that you have to watch the person talking on the screen anyway. However I did find all the talks I went to very inspiring and I wrote a LinkedIn post about my main take-aways.
- For each person you agree to meet, study their profile and compile a list of personalised questions in advance, and if possible, send it to the people as you schedule the meeting, even if it’s vague, like “I’d like to learn about how to launch a Veganuary campaign at my university, any tips you have would be useful”. The more you allow your new contact to prepare, the more value you will get out of the meeting. Looking up additional information on your new contact (such as their LInkedIn profile or website) will help you ask better questions and have more interesting conversations.
- As you’re planning your 1:1s, have a good mix of “I help you” and “You help me” and “We help each other” meetings. If you have too much of “I help you”, you will be at risk of struggling to talk after a couple of hours, while if you are always the one being helped, you won’t have the satisfaction of giving back to the community.
- If you find it hard to find the time to meet, send the person your calendly link to book the follow-up straight away, otherwise you’ll have so many follow-up tasks to do afterwards, you may forget to connect to people (and people are not usually very responsive after the conference).
- In fact, I’ve found the scheduling in the app really confusing as the unconfirmed meetings weren’t showing in your calendar, so I would recommend using another tool, such as a Google calendar and inputting your commitments there.
- It’s important not to overbook yourself either - make sure there are at least a couple of 15min to 30min breaks so that you can have a breather and use the quiet room if needed.
During the event
- Arrive early - if you haven’t been to the venue yet, you may need some time to orient yourself around it and find the space without stressing yourself out. Arriving 15 minutes earlier than your first commitment will allow you to make a drink and find the room without rushing.
- Try your best to be on time for meetings. Most people would have planned their schedules and have back-to-back meetings and activities, so if you’re late, you are reducing potential value from your meeting. I’ve noticed that some people have wisely scheduled all or most of their meetings in the same room so that they don’t have to move around a lot.
- Find the best way for yourself to take notes. Is it a paper notebook? Is it an iPad? A laptop? Just a Notes app on your phone? I brought an iPad but ended up mostly writing on my iPhone’s notes app as it was much quicker. I saw lots of people with laptops too - I wanted to bring one but found advice on the internet that it’s not very useful. After all, you want to have real conversations, and the value is not in just talking to someone, but in connecting in real life. If you’re doing it behind the screen of a laptop, it may be a bit too “Zoomy”. Each to their own, however!
- Bring an extra charger for your phone and if you can, another device with the event app installed beforehand. The app is the best way to communicate to the attendees and also to receive any important communications. I met a person at the conference whose phone died, so she lost all her agenda and means of communicating with other people.
How to avoid getting overwhelmed
- Have your priorities in mind at all times. The conference time flies quickly, and if you’re not careful you may get carried away talking to the same person for too long or being overwhelmed when you should have taken a break to recharge.
- Monitor your energy levels and have a rest at the first sign of overwhelm. Some people told me they didn’t realise how tired they were until they went to the quiet room and I found that an hour in the quiet room really helped me reenergise and continue on the second day. Even if you’re a people person, it’s always good to stop and think for a bit, even if it’s just listening to some music or meditating for 15 minutes.
- Don't feel like you have to do everything, speak to everyone, and go to every activity you’re invited to. If you max out on Saturday, you won’t be able to benefit as much from Sunday. Trying to do a bit of everything based on your priorities and you’ll leave being very satisfied with what you managed to achieve. For example, the conference also has some after-dinner activities, sometimes planned by the organisers, sometimes by private groups. I didn’t go there as I wanted to concentrate all my energy on networking during the conference and I ran out of energy at about 5 pm, but arguably getting to know people in a more relaxed setting maybe even more valuable.
Tips for engaging with other attendees
- Don’t just wait for people to approach you - be proactive. Don’t be afraid to approach people - if people didn’t want to network, they wouldn’t attend the conference. A friendly “hey, how are you doing? Are you ok to chat?” will do. Most people are happy to have a conversation.
- Be prepared to be flexible: one of my meetings got cancelled last minute so I looked around the room and found people I wanted to talk to. I also booked myself into a networking event only to find it too loud for the end of the conference, so I went and made a drink and bumped into someone I wanted to speak to, so we had a meeting instead. Some people may be free - message them on the app and see if they can meet you at a short notice.
- Don’t be put off by seemingly “unsuccessful” conversations. If you chat to someone for a couple of minutes and you don’t click (for example, you can’t find adjacent topics of interest), or the person doesn’t show any interest in you despite a lot of curiosity on your part, don’t let it make you disappointed in the whole conference. You never know where this new information or connection might come useful!
- Make it easy for people to find you - don’t just say “let’s meet in that room” as some rooms are pretty big and some people don’t look like their pictures. Better directions are “I’m standing at the back of the room next to the stage” or “I’m wearing a red hoodie”.
How to have enjoyable and productive conversations with others
- Ask the right questions to make all conversations interesting. Questions like “What are you currently most excited about?”, “What’s the most interesting thing you’ve found out about this month?”, “What’s your biggest challenge?”, “What inspires you/what makes you come alive?” or “How did you end up working on this/what brought you to this conference?” Some good suggestions are in the book The Serendipity Mindset which I highly recommend too - it helps to see all encounters as potentially life-changing.
- Listen actively - this is such a big one. Nowadays it’s no longer good enough to be a good listener - you need to be a good active listener. I won’t go into too much detail here, but there are some good tips in this article and in the book “You Are Not Listening” if you’d like to go deeper into the subject. You can never be too good at listening! Make your sentences short, try not to go on a tangent, ask questions and remember that you already know what you know, so your aim is to listen to other people to find out what they know.
- Come with an open mind and prepare for people to challenge your ideas/assumptions. You’re not here to convince anyone but to discuss ideas, connect and get inspired. Sometimes we become defensive when people disagree with us, but effective altruists are really good at spotting biases and will ask you questions like “what research is there to confirm this?” or “I have the opposite opinion because…” It’s good to listen them out and not try to convince them otherwise but use this opportunity to understand their point of view. A really good quote from the You Are Not Listening book I mentioned above is “Don’t listen to confirm you’re right, listen for confirmation that you’re wrong”.
After the event
- Send people a quick note thanking them for meeting you. This can also include a follow-up with any materials you promised to send them.
- Go through the notes that you made while talking to people. I’ve learnt so much valuable information that I had to spend a couple of hours putting it into Notion and Asana for better reference.
- Schedule virtual meetings with the people with whom you weren’t able to meet if you haven’t done it before the conference.
- Consider writing a reflection blog on this forum and/or on LinkedIn. Not only CEA are interested in knowing how it went for you, but also you may inspire other people to come next time.
- It may be a good idea to take Friday and Monday off work, to prepare and to recuperate after the conference.
What I would do differently next time
- I’ll register earlier and start my planning earlier. I had about two weeks and it was just enough, but with a full-time job it’s hard to find the time sometimes.
- I’ll use Google Calendar for all my meetings rather than the event’s native app.
- I will consider having 15 min meetings as opposed to 30 min meetings. One of my friends had 15 min meeting invites in calendly rather than using the app’s meeting invites and I guess he met a lot more people than I did. You can discuss a surprising amount of things in 15 mins and if you really enjoyed meeting someone, you could always ask if you could schedule a virtual call later.
- I’d attend fewer speeches and workshops, fewer speed networking events and devote 95% of my time to 1:1s. For your reference, I went to two speeches and two workshops. I’m not sure I’ll go to any speeches. They were really inspiring but now I’m thinking that I could have met 4 + people in the same time we could have been a better use of the conference’s time.
- If the room I end up choosing for my 1:1 appears to be too loud, I will suggest going somewhere else, as bigger spaces were much more ear-friendly. In some of my meetings I didn’t hear people at all and missed information - it’s worth voicing that and making sure you are both comfortable.
- If I do go to speed networking, I will make sure I actually move around (I enjoyed my conversations with people so much that we ended up talking for a couple of rounds which misses the point!). I will consider not doing speed networking at all as the rooms were so loud, I could hardly hear the person.
- I will schedule meetings during breakfast and lunch - I was a bit afraid of being overwhelmed with meetings, so I left early morning and 1h for lunch free to just eat in silence, but I quickly realised that, because it’s a networking conference, people will sit at the same table as you and you’ll end up talking to people anyway. So you might as well eat with people who you’d like to speak to.
- I will send people my calendly link in advance - some meetings fell through because I messaged people after the conference, but they were no longer checking their notifications (or just chose to ignore me haha).
Definitely consider going to the next EAG, apply as soon as it’s advertised and make sure you factor in all the planning time too + reinforce it with a good follow-up.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this blog: anything that particularly resonated with you? Anything you don't agree with? Any other tips you'd like to leave for future participants?