WWDC is next week! Can you believe it? I’m pumped about this. It’ll be my first time at the conference and I’m really looking forward to learning new things, meeting new people, and enjoying some cold, foggy San Francisco weather. Plus I’ve heard so much about the Moscone sandwiches. 😛

I’ve been to a number of conferences and the best part has always been meeting new people. The sessions are cool but you can always watch those online. But the other people? That’s where the value is. The other people are the ones who can inspire you, teach you, become coworkers or lifelong friends. They’re what makes it fun and interesting.

But creating a real, genuine connection with people at a conference is hard. Some folks associate conferences with “networking”, which no one likes. So as I start getting pumped up for WWDC I decided to write down a few strategies that I’ll use for making friends while I’m in San Francisco.

And yes, you can do this without handing out a single business card. Which is good because you either a) don’t know where yours are or b) have spilled enough coffee them that they are not fit to prop up the leg of a wobbly bar stool (which you just spilled beer on as well).

A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met

I know it’s pretty cliché and Forest Gump said it better, but it’s true.

When you meet someone, instead of thinking “am I going to like this person? Is he/she going to like me?”, think to yourself “hey here’s an old friend that I haven’t seen in ages!” You’ll be surprised the difference this makes.

Sit with someone new at lunch

Many of us will be attending WWDC with friends or coworkers. It’s all too easy to only hang out with them. So try sitting with someone new at lunch. Meals have always been a great way to connect with people. When we share a meal we share part of ourselves.

Pump up your energy

Ok, we’re all going to be jet-lagged and tired from a whole week of WWDC and after-parties. But no one wants to talk to someone who is half asleep. Remember to smile and be excited: you’re in a room full of friends!

Go to the parties

There are going to be bunch of great parties. I just downloaded an app called… ready for this?… Parties for WWDC by Genady Okrain. It’s a really good app and I look forward to using at the conference.

Ok, so let’s say you’ve found a couple interesting events to go to. What can you do to make the most of them?

Put your phone away

When you walk into a room full of people you don’t know, what’s the first thing you do? If you’re like most of us, you feel a sudden overpowering compulsion to check twitter. Fight it! You’re here to meet friends. Which brings me to my next suggestion…

Make the first 30 seconds count

Immediately strike up a conversation with someone. The longer you wait, the harder it’s going to be.

Small Talk is a Big Deal

Small talk gets a bad rap as being fluff or filler. But it’s really important! These little conversations are what build friendships. This is how you learn that you have the same hobby as someone else, or that you have mutual friends, or grew up in the same city, or that you love the same movies or whatever. Conversation doesn’t have to be awkward and you don’t have to talk about the weather. Here are a couple tips:

Challenge yourself

See how long you can go before asking “where are you from” and “what do you do”. The answers will always be the same, anyway: “I’m from [some tech city]” and “I write iOS apps”.

A few conversation starters

Seriously, where else can you start a conversation with “what’s your favorite Cocoa API?” But here are some other suggestions you could try:

  • What do you do when you’re not writing code?
  • Are you doing anything fun in SF besides WWDC?
  • Have you been to any other conferences this year?
  • Have you ever been to SF before?
  • What new iOS/Swift/watchOS feature are you most excited about? (the correct answer is “AppleCar”)
  • Did you see any good sessions today?
  • Have you ever seen the Breakpoints? They’re awesome and they’re playing on Wednesday.

How to keep a conversation interesting

If you find you are talking with little input from the other person, ask a few questions. If you find all you are doing is asking questions, start making statements. I’d aim for two or three questions followed by a statement, story, or opinion.

“Where are you from?” “New York”

“Where do you work?” “Groupon”

“Oh really? I love Groupon! I just bought a Groupon for glass-blowing. It was really fun but I almost lit my shoe on fire. Oh man you should have seen this vase I tried to make…” etc., etc.

Leave a little mystery

You don’t have to dive into every single subject. Try leaving a few lose threads in your conversation and see where it goes. Here’s an example:

“You’re from Chicago? I saw the best concert of my life there! How long have you lived there?” You’ve just given the other person something to ask about if they’d like. Otherwise the conversation can just keep going.

Follow up

Relationships are built over time. I once heard that in order for a relationship to “stick” you need to talk across three channels (for instance: in person, via email, and on twitter). I don’t know if that’s true but it makes sense to me. But however you do it, if you’ve enjoyed talking to someone, shoot them a message and say thanks.

Read Never Eat Alone

I didn’t make this stuff up, and honestly I’m still not that good at it. But if I could recommend one book on meeting people and making friends, it would have to be Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone. It’s fantastic.

Start making friends before the conference

Think of some people you’d like to meet. Reach out and say “hi” to them via email or twitter.

As a matter of fact, you can start with me! Reach out, introduce yourself, and let me know why you’re excited about WWDC. I look forward to meeting you!