It’s intimidating to walk into a conference for the first time, surrounded by strangers and dazed by the meaty agenda inscribed on the literature you were given when you checked in.
There are people everywhere. Some seem just as lost as you. But many others are chatting with each other, looking confident and comfortable in the middle of the rush. How do they do it?
It’s likely that this isn’t their first rodeo—and with experience comes relaxation. For a second-, fifth-, or tenth-time attendee at any conference, it’s a lot easier to lean into what the event has to offer without feeling overwhelmed by everything available to explore.
Before you resign yourself to getting lost in the hustle and bustle, know that, even as a first-timer, it’s possible to glean every bit of insight from your experience instead of being overcome by the newness of it all.
You can do this by building your agenda in advance, plotting what takeaways you most need from the event, and sitting down after the conference to capture your thoughts. It’s also immensely helpful to present lessons learned to your team (or even just your manager) when you get back to the office—both because it makes it easier to retain that information over the long term, and because it helps influence positive change right away.
“Every year, my colleague and business partner, Brandon Ward, and I have always carved out a time (usually over scotch and steaks at Smith & Wollensky’s) to compare notes on what we’re seeing at Relativity Fest, in the industry, and how we can implement change into our companies,” Christine Chalstrom, CEO of Shepherd Data and Sadie Blue Software, said of her favorite conference traditions.
But there’s an even better way to ensure you’re sailing instead of drowning: buddying up with a mentor who’s been there, done that. Whether you’re teaming up with a coworker, messaging a connection on LinkedIn, or finding other attendees at an industry meet-up or user group, planning your conference with guidance from someone who knows how to help you pull the most value from your experience.
Fortunately, there’s an official way to do this at Relativity Fest for the first time this year: the Fest Mentor program.
Small Fish, Big Pond
Let’s take Relativity Fest as an example. With more than 2,000 attendees across many niches and segments—corporate law, the public sector, service providers, IP litigators—there is a lot going on. For some, spotting the celebrities of the legal and legal tech world is a thrill (looking at you, Chris Dale!). But it can also be a little intimidating to be surrounded by such talent.
First thing’s first: Remember that all of these brilliant minds are here to learn with you, and to teach for you. It helps to know that they’re there for you as much as you are for them.
Next, find a school of fish with whom you can swim. You may be in a big pond, but it’s the good kind of chummy—and there’s no reason you can’t learn informally from your peers, as well as formally, while you’re there.
Event veterans look back at their first conference and know this to be true.
“By the time I figured out Relativity Fest, it was already over,” said Nikolai Pozdniakov, EDD production manager at vdiscovery and well-known Relativity Fest vlogger. “Having someone more experienced would have given me more heads up on what to expect and how to prepare.”
Susan James, senior practice support analyst at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, agrees: “I didn’t know many people and was shy and overwhelmed about which sessions to attend and how to navigate the social events,” she said. “It would have been nice to have someone who knew the ropes make recommendations and introduce me to people. Sometimes just having someone to sit next to at a session makes all the difference.”
How to Team Up
Nikolai and Susan have both volunteered for the Fest Mentor program this year, which will pair up experienced attendees with first-timers to help enhance both participants’ experience in Chicago.
Christine will join them. She says she’s enjoyed watching Relativity Fest evolve over the years and is excited to be a part of this year’s growth.
“I attended the first Fest and met Andrew in person there for the first time. He seemed astonished and humbled that anybody would show up,” she recalled. “Over the years, I’m in awe how quickly Fest has morphed and expanded to mirror the rapid evolution of the e-discovery industry.”
For many, it’s the relationships that make Relativity Fest—and many other favorite conferences—worth attending year after year. They’re also what makes the lessons last longer and inspire growth for their teams.
New and veteran attendees of Relativity Fest are invited to sign up for the program this year’s event by October 8. After that, they’ll be paired up by the Relativity events team and introduced to one another ahead of the conference. They’ll then be encouraged to meet up throughout the conference and find opportunities to join up and maximize their experience.
“We want to remove the stress and nerves that come with attending something for the first time, especially if you’re attending alone, and help you get the most out of Relativity Fest,” said Ana Ramirez, program manager of events at Relativity and the lead on the mentor initiative. “When you feel at home and welcomed, other parts of your brain can open up and take in more of the great experience that we intend to provide our attendees. We hope to grow the sense of community by helping our guests partner up and knowledge share while they’re with us in Chicago.”
“Having attended Relativity Fest many times, I feel like I know the ins and outs of the event,” said Nikolai. “I look forward sharing them with newcomers.”
The mentors we have lined up so far are excited to make new connections and support their peers’ first adventure in Relativity’s Chicago.
Christine said: “I’m looking forward to experiencing Fest through a colleague’s fresh perspective and hearing their thoughts about the development of e-discovery.”
“The relationships I’ve made at Fest are a big part of why I love attending,” Susan added. “I’m looking forward to getting to know someone new and helping them figure out what they want to get out of Fest and how to achieve it. That and becoming a life-long friend.”
Sam Bock is a member of the marketing team at Relativity, and serves as editor of The Relativity Blog.