Why getting out and about is a great idea for Digital Professionals #1

Picture the scene. You’re in your mid-20s and you’ve just got your first Web Manager’s position in a UK Higher Education Institution. You’ve been in the job approximately two weeks when someone says that you’re going to a conference in Bath, on your own, as the person who was supposed to be going can no longer make it. You’ve never been to a conference, you’ve never been to Bath, and you’d rather tattoo your own eye lids than go.

Well, this is what happened to me and it was the best thing that could have happened at that stage in my career.

The event was the 4th Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW) which took place at the University of Bath from 6th – 8th September 2000. The 21st IWMW has just taken place, this time in Kent, and I’m pleased and proud to say that I was the Co-Chair this time – a far cry from that scared and apprehensive 20-something year old, all those years ago.

So why was that event so important to me?

As the new Web Manager, I was the only person in the institution doing that, very new, role, which is often the case for web and digital professionals within any large organisation. They are generally part of a bigger, multidisciplinary team (might be IT, might be marketing or communications …), and whilst there may be other members of the web/digital team around them, there isn’t really the opportunity to network with other, like-minded, professionals on a daily basis.

And this is the crux of the matter. Getting out and about is all about networking, and what that networking can do for you, and others, and your institutions, and what it might lead onto.

In this series of three posts, I’ll go through some of, what I think, are the main reasons for getting out and about – be it to a large conference, a small local event, or just getting a few people together to explore a particular topic.

So, let’s start off with….

The dreaded ‘networking’

Ask most people and the thought of ‘networking’ is one that instantly brings on a cold sweat and the need to run away to a dark corner to be by one’s self. So maybe ‘networking’ needs reframing or renaming. We could just call it ‘talking’, which is, after all, what is really happening. Like-minded professionals chatting about what interests them, what they are struggling with, how they have made something a success, and what football team they support/can’t stand. Its what humans are really good at. Talking. And conferences are great places to talk.

And the talking is on many levels, which is what makes conferences so valuable:

  • You have experts talking about their own experiences through plenary sessions
  • There are experts sharing their knowledge through masterclasses and workshops
  • Everyone talks over the coffee and lunch breaks
  • Vendors talk to you about their products in an informal and open way – much less ‘sell’ than if they came to your organisation
  • And the social events provide an ideal opportunity to really get the talking going – and you just never know who you might end up talking to!

A change of scenery

But its not just about the networking, sorry, talking. Nothing gets the mind going like a change of scenery. This might be the annual summer holiday, a walk in the park, or a couple of days at a different institution. I’ve lost count of the number of times that people have said how they left a conference completely buzzing with new ideas that they have picked up during a conference, either through what others have done, or just because they have had the headspace to think differently, and concentrate completely on their professional subject, away from the everyday norm of the office.

And this doesn’t have to be a full-blown conference either. Smaller local groups with common interests are a great way of getting out and about, just for a few hours or a day, to collectively tackle a problem or generate new ideas. These could be in the evening, such as NUX, or during the working day. The Scottish Web Folk are a great example of this and I have been part of similar groups that have met across the north east, with the host institution revolving. Why not put a call out and see who fancies meeting up to talk about the latest pertinent subject, be it how to handle the GDPR, upgrading your CMS, or the best way to lead your team through a restructure. Give yourself a different space to have a conversation that just might go somewhere.

Next time, why getting out and about is a good habit to have and how the value to you, and your organisation, will be more than you can ever put a price tag on.

Author: Claire Gibbons, Digital, Marketing, Higher Education and Content Consultant.