How to be "visible" at the Global Privacy Summit

People go to the IAPP Global Privacy Summit — all conferences, really — with a variety of goals. Some of you want to actually get some education out of the thing. Which is a good bet in Summit’s case. The program really is full of smart people who know what they’re talking about. But this post isn’t for you.

Some of you actually go to the event to do some shopping. Summit ain’t bad for that either, with a growing exhibitor list and a trade show floor that’s evolving into pretty decent. I think the world of privacy vendors — including consultants and lawyers — is still small enough that it’s more efficient to do your shopping via the internet and phone calls, but you can definitely learn something about an organization by the way they chat with you at an event. Still, this post isn’t for you.

No, this post is for those folks who are headed to Summit and DC trying to MAKE THINGS HAPPEN. Which can be hard when there are effectively 5,000 people in the room. How do you get a little visibility when there is a sea of privacy professionals and you’re not all that big of a fish?

I have some thoughts.

1 - Look the part. While the privacy industry might be younger and more gender-balanced than most, it remains a pretty conservative place in terms of fashion. Women tend to wear blue/gray/black pant-suits and men tend to wear blue/gray/black blazers and jeans or suits. There’s very little color.

Thus, it’s really not that hard to be noticed for your sartorial choices. In short: Don’t look like every other lawyer in DC. A jacket with a pattern? Some odd-shaped glasses? A lapel pin? Some cowboy boots?

Just wear something that makes people wonder, “Who’s that?”

Are you currently thinking, “BUT I DON’T LIKE TO DRAW ATTENTION TO MYSELF”? Well, this column isn’t going to work for you and you don’t want to be “visible,” so I’d go read something else right now.

2 - Do the Twitter thing and use the #gps19 hashtag. Yes, Twitter probably makes you dumber and it’s where all the most poisonous elements of the internet come together. But, hey, at least it’s not Facebook. And the conversation that uses the hashtag is pretty sophisticated and sometimes actually attracts regulators and other influential peeps.

Plus, remember that bit about privacy being a relatively conservative place: Not that many folks actually put themselves out there. Which means there aren’t THAT many people using the tag. Which means you’ve got a good chance of @DailyDashboard or @PrivacyPros retweeting you. And they’ve got tens of thousands of followers, so that can help you out. Maybe even look for those handles and playfully engage with them and get a little back and forth going that people might be interested in. That can be enough to get someone trying to figure out who you are.

3 - Ask questions in sessions, but don’t be a jerk about it. The comment-as-question is such a bad thing to do that conference organizers post blogs about how to make sure that person doesn’t do that.

But that doesn’t mean that asking a question isn’t a good idea. Just make sure that you … actually ask a question you want to know the answer to. Which, I know, seems crazy, but hear me out: Be curious. Just don’t be these people:

  • Person who asks such a specific question about a personal situation that it borders on asking for legal advice in a public forum.

  • Person who tries to play “gotcha” and catch a panelist not knowing what they’re talking about. Everyone hates the person who tries to embarrass someone in public.

  • Person who clearly has been on their phone for the last 30 minutes and then asks a question that’s already been discussed.

  • Person who asks a question that would require another hour to answer.

Generally, the best questions ask for an opinion on something that just happened or how something is going to happen. These people are up there because they know their shit. A question like, “Given your experience with the FTC, how do you think this Facebook fine is actually going to play out,” or, “You’ve seen hundreds of these breach notifications happen in real time. How do you think so and so could have handled things better,” is solid.

Make it clear you know who the panelist is and why you’d be asking that specific question. The best questions are concisely thoughtful and maybe questions that other people in the audience would like the answer to, but they just don’t like bringing attention to themselves.

That’s your job, remember.

4 - Go to the Five-Minute Mixer. You should go to the After Hours events, too, but the five-minute mixer is a must-attend thing. For introverts, it’s admittedly terrifying, but too bad. You’ve got a job to do here. Suck it up. The worst thing that can happen is that you have to talk to someone who sucks for five minutes. The best thing about it is that they literally force the person to stop talking to you after five minutes.

If you vibe with the person, you follow up later. If you don’t, just ignore the guy’s email when he hits you up later that day. Must have been caught in the spam filter! Too bad.

Seriously, though, it’s great networking conversation practice. You meet a TON of people in a short amount of time, and the people who go there are either looking to sell themselves or to buy someone else. That’s where you want to be if you want to be visible.

Truthfully, the After Hours events are probably better places to hook up than to raise your business profile, but I guess that depends a little on how you hold your liquor. I feel like more bad things can happen than good if you’re over-eager. I’d personally do the one drink and then scoot to get a good night’s sleep thing (actually, I’d definitely NOT do that, but I’m not your best model here. I make bad decisions on the regular).

5 - Eat lunch with randoms. This is where really good things have happened for me. It’s totally terrifying, even for me, who has been to about 200 conferences now: Walking through the sea of eight-tops trying to decide where to sit.

Oh, look, there’s a table of my friends! No, don’t sit there. Don’t do it. It will be comfortable, and maybe even fun, but that’s not what you’re trying to do here. You’re trying to give out business cards and make a name for yourself. Those people already know who you are.

My move is this: Look for a table where seven of the eight seats are taken and take that last seat. You’re confident. You’re feeling great. You’re going to sit down and start listening and contributing and introducing and it’s going to be awesome.

No matter what happens, DO NOT TAKE OUT YOUR PHONE. Only bad people do that. You’re not a bad person. You can do this.

6 - Sit in the front row. Well, at least the first few rows. So much of being visible, is, well, being visible. The people on stage are nervous, too, you know. And they like it when there are people in the front row smiling at them and nodding their heads.

When I’m speaking, I often focus on three or four people in the audience and then rotate through them to see how I’m doing. Oh shit! All four of them are on their phones! I’m being terrible right now!

That person who’s nodding? I love them in that moment like they’re one of my children.

Don’t be disingenuous, obviously, but be present. Be real. Actually listen and show that you care about what’s being presented on stage. That’s going to be appreciated by whomever is presenting, whether they’ve done it 100 times or once. If you then come up to them at a networking event later in the day, I guarantee they’ll have a positive association with you.

Obviously, this is some basic stuff. I don’t mean to insult anyone’s intelligence. But, hopefully, this gives you that little extra motivation you need to go get it. Right now, just about everyone is privacy is looking for good people. If you’re reading this, you’re a good person. I’m quite sure of it (especially if you’ve made it this far). Get out there and let your freak flag fly and see what happens. I bet it will be pretty decent.

Or maybe totally embarrassing. But that’s what good stories are made of.

Sam Pfeifle