Making Conferences More Welcoming

Conferences can be extremely hard. They are busy and everyone is stressed and/or excitedly meeting up with their friends that they barely get to see. They can be cliquey, or seem cliquey.

Conferences can feel like you’re surrounded by your community. But, if they don’t go well, it’s easy to become disheartened and let down. They are hard enough to get through when you have friends there (I have a post coming on Friday about how to survive a conference, stay tuned!), but what if you don’t know people? What if you’re trying to make friends but don’t know how to break into any friend groups?

This post isn’t directly about that, I guess. I don’t have many thoughts for what you should do in order to feel accepted – nothing that you haven’t heard already, at least (“just introduce yourself!”). But I do have some thoughts for what the insiders can do to make sure they are more welcoming for you!

I’m going to write it with examples from the big upcoming sexuality conference, Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit, but the points are mostly transferable to any conference.

Without further ado:

    Blogger Badge from Woodhull SFS16
    My badge from SFS16. My pronouns are not written nearly large enough to be accessible.

  1. The event hashtag this year is #SFS17 – this is a great place to start. Send a tweet out every now and again identifying yourself as someone who would love to meet new people, or that you can offer support to those who are overwhelmed (there will be a handful of people who are overwhelmed every time, that’s just par for the course). There are stickers you can get indicating things like “say hi!”, “plays well with others!”, etc, that you can attach to your badge that will visually mark you as someone approachable. (Note: You can also get ones that say “new” if you want to make yourself visible as a newbie!)
  2. Use #SFS17 before the event to introduce yourself and reach out! Sample tweet: “Looking forward to meeting everyone at #SFS17! Nervous? Say hi in advance so you’ll have a friend when you arrive :)”
  3. Wear your name badge, and make sure your pronouns are visible. When you introduce yourself to someone, say your name and your pronouns (even if you think your pronouns are “obvious”). Don’t gender anyone else until they have stated their pronouns (even if you think their pronouns are “obvious”)
  4. If you’re presenting (or even just talking to friends), warn folks if you’re about to start saying overtly sexual or kinky things. Yes – Woodhull is a sexuality conference. BUT we should still be trauma-informed to help ensure people are consenting to hear what you’re about to share. I think too we have to be really careful in sexualized/sexual based setting like Woodhull in order to still provide trigger warnings and spaces for folks to receive support if they are triggered
  5. Ask consent. Before touching someone (sexually or not). Before starting conversations that are potentially triggering. Before engaging in any sort of way that toward someone (especially if you don’t know them) that might not be okay. Check in, and don’t assume you know what someone else is thinking or feeling. Be prepared for someone to say no and be okay with that.
  6. Are you in a space – especially a social space such as the Blogger Lounge – and notice some people not talking to anyone, looking uncomfortable, or as though they want to join in? Do you hear people trying to join the conversation but aren’t heard or are overlooked? Specifically say hi to them; ask if they need something to feel included, introduce them to your friends. It can be as simple as “Hey! You look bored/lonely; are you wanting to interact with people right now?” if they say no, that’s fine! If they say yes, strike up a conversation. See someone eating alone? Ask if they’d like company or if they’re enjoying their alone-time. And again – be prepared for a no!
  7. #HaveDildosWillTravel Group Shot
    This wasn’t taken at Woodhull, I’m cheating with this image. Shhh, don’t tell!
  8. It’s fine to spend time with your friends, of course. You’re not required to be a welcoming party for the whole conference. Just be aware of others and try to ensure you’re not making anyone actively uncomfortable.
  9. There’s a Meet and Greet event for sex educators – if you attend, make extra sure to look out for people who look like they’re on their own!
  10. When you’re speaking to a group of people that includes folks you don’t know at all/very well, try to avoid language like “obviously”, “goes without saying”, “of course”, etc when discussing industry things. Example – “obviously Metis would be a good person to talk to about silicone ‘blends’ […]”, “___ has some good resources on toy safety, and of course Lilly does too […]”, or “I don’t support LELO anymore (and it goes without saying why not)”. Not everyone will know who these people are or what fuck up a company has done – even if it was a big and public event. Maybe they should know, but everyone learns at different rates and there’s a lot in this industry to learn. Phrasing things in ways that implies “you should already have this knowledge” makes folks who don’t know less likely to ask, and also shuts them out of the conversation as they don’t know the topic.
  11. If you’re in a group of people that’s going up to a room for a casual social hangout, make sure you clearly state that the invitation is for the whole group (if it is)! Even if you assume they know that the invitation has been extended, new folks may be under the assumption that they aren’t included and be too shy to ask.

Are you someone new? Or maybe you just need someone to vent to? I’m always available. Best way to reach me during the conference is @feistyfoxfilms or @taylorjmace (publicly or via DMs).

What else can we do to make conferences more welcoming? Let me know in the comments below or get in touch with me elsewhere!


Want more like this? Subscribe to my Patreon in order to ensure more quality content!