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Dispatches from Elevate: How to Make the Most out of a Tech Conference

Last week, I was fortunate to spend two days at Elevate, working as a volunteer. I was a VIP handler at the Design Exchange—making sure that everyone had what they needed, got to where they needed to go, and felt supported and cared for throughout the event. It was awesome. 

This was my first time volunteering (or even attending) an event like this, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was blown away by the amount of work it takes to put on an event of this calibre—by the event staff, the venue staff, and other volunteers like myself. It ended up being an incredible experience, and I learned a lot in the process. 

Here are the things I learned about myself, and about big tech conferences like Elevate: 

Staying in your zone is easy, trying new things is hard. 

In a conference as big and varied as Elevate, there’s a track for every vertical within the tech industry. If you work in FinTech, you can spend a full week taking in FinTech content. That’s a great thing! It’s important to have conferences that are willing to go deep on particular subjects. 

But one of the great things about tech conferences is the fact that they give us the opportunity to get out of our comfort zones, explore other approaches, and learn about how others are solving business problems. By stretching out and exploring, we can open opportunities for new ways of thinking—and that’s a great thing. 

Talking to the same people is easy—networking is hard. 

From my limited perspective, it looked like quite a few attendees were there alone, or with one other person. I get it—networking can be nerve wracking. Having a friend or colleague with you to help navigate can be comforting. But, if you spend your time at a tech conference talking to people you already know—you’re missing out on some great opportunities. 

Luckily for me, my position as a volunteer forced me to get comfortable exploring new ideas and talking to new people. I had one station where I spent my days—though I was often too busy to listen to the presentations, the programming I attended was chosen for me. I had no choice but to engage with the people around me, and it was invigorating to be forced out of my comfort zone and talk with new people. 

Lastly, as a volunteer, I was reminded of how powerful it can be to be in service of others. 

Helping others is a way of helping yourself understand what’s most important. 

As a recruiter, I spend my days in service of other people. I help our clients hire the people they need, and I help candidates as they navigate their careers. It’s not entirely selfless—I love my job, and it certainly pays the bills. When we make a placement it feels awesome (and yes, there’s a paycheque that doesn’t hurt either). In the hustle and grind of the day to day, it’s easy to lose sight of what I love most about my work—helping people. 

As a volunteer, my job for two days was to be in service of others. To anticipate their needs, solve their problems, make sure that they were cared for. It might sound corny, but for me it was a powerful reminder that we can’t know what other people are going through, but that we can be present and mindful of the needs of others. It was also a nice reminder that everyone—including some pretty intimidating leaders and celebrities—are people first. 

Events like Elevate are a vital part of the tech community here in Toronto. They provide opportunities for connection, learning, and uncovering new ways of thinking. You might also bump into a celebrity or two.

For me, volunteering was an opportunity to get out of my comfort zone, meet some awesome new people, and reconnect with what I love about recruiting for the tech industry. 

I hope to see you at the next one.

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