‘Come prepared!’ As the new kid on the block, I did not heed this advice as well as I should have as I embarked on my first annual AVPN conference. As the network rapidly grows and seeks to be more inclusive by hearing the voices of a greater stakeholder base, I was constantly torn by the decision of whether to attend one of the many panel sessions and workshops or to try and connect with one of a 1,300 other attendees. The networking opportunities were rampant, albeit it would have been nice if the AVPN app had been tested ahead of the event to avoid the somewhat chaotic scene that ensued for four days straight. Imagine – 1,300 registered participants all looking down at their smart phone, pleading with the AVPN app to provide a glimmer of hope that would help them to identify who they would be meeting with next, and a chat function within the app that refused to update outside of the prescribed two-hourly updates.
So, what will I do different next year? Well for starters, I would have commenced planning at least the week before arriving in Singapore. As an attendee to the conference with multiple priorities, I should have stayed true to my one main objective – deepening my relationships within the network and making new contacts. The app, even when it’s bug-free, can only take you so far when you’re physically at the conference and making the time to research who you want to meet with in advance of the conference is key. My approach going forward will definitely be to reach out as early as possible and to agree on meeting arrangements before arriving at the conference. Although this year’s conference space was relatively well contained to a specific area of the convention center, it was still a challenge to find people, so it’s imperative to be specific about meeting points. Lastly, appreciating that there are always a ton of side events going on in parallel to the main conference is good knowledge. I have found these side events to be great ways to deepen the engagement with other passionate attendees.
In hindsight, it is hard to do much else than smile about how many of us first-timers struggled to make the meaningful connections that we yearned for. The best moment for me was indeed running to meet someone near the registration desk with the simple guidance of ‘In a purple suit’. It seemed so promising given not too many of us wear purple suits, and yet when I arrived at the registration hall I was met by a sea of navy blue. Lesson learned – some people consider blue to be purple.
Jennifer Louie is Executive Director for Nexus for Development