Back in July, I was fortunate enough to attend the Arts Marketing Association Conference in Newcastle. For those new to the AMA, they are an organisation who 'support the cultural sector with training and resources', specifically those who are of the marketing persuasion. They don't just focus on music either, they cater to all the arts and their annual conference is a wonderful opportunity to meet individuals from across the sector.
I’ll preface this blog with some advance apologies - always good to begin grovelling. ‘Survive’ is perhaps a harsh word for what was an incredibly insightful and enjoyable conference, but a headline is a headline. I’ll also say that these are my tips from my experience. You’ll no doubt have your own and some among you will take great offence with this article. Once again, I am grateful there isn’t a comment section. Now that’s all dealt with, we can begin.
Any large gathering is daunting. You may be all name-badged up but no amount of lanyards will get over the fact that you are all strangers gathered in an empty concert hall. However, it’s an interesting environment as deep within all us attendees, tucked just behind the voice in our heads that says; “no one wants to talk to you, you’ll look stupid”, is another saying “give it a go, you’re here to ‘network, too”. How to go about it? I found the easiest way to instigate a conversation was just to throw a smile at someone. Nine times out of ten you’d be greeted with one back and before you know it you’ll be chatting away about ticketing systems. Smile you beautiful marketers, smile.
Here is a generic photo of people both smiling and 'holding conversations'
2. The conversations between the sessions are just as important as the sessions themselves
Once you’ve perfected your award-winning, conversation-starting smile the next step is to get chatting. As wonderful as all the breakout sessions are, sometimes it can be intimidating to throw out your opinion into a group discussion. That doesn’t mean it isn’t valid. Take advantage of the fact that you’re surrounded by equally enthusiastic people who day-in, day-out probably tackle the same problems and fears as yourself. Whether you want to challenge a common conception or just find a little reassurance from a fellow foot solider of the arts, get those chins a-wagging.
3. Join the discussion
To shamelessly quote the late-90s anthem by New Radicals, you get what you give. As stated in the previous point, it can be incredibly intimidating to join in with the larger discussions in the breakout sessions, but my recommendation would be to get involved. In a similar vein of advice we give to our players when they’re tackling some public speaking, no one there wants you to fail. No one is sitting hoping for you to stumble on your words. Remember that you offer a unique point of view that no one else in the world could have because only you are you. If none of my points help with the anxiety of it all then maybe this will – everyone will be grateful that someone has broken the awkward silence.
4. Don’t worry about writing everything down
Of course, a notebook is a must. But, I’d warn against going too crazy with your notes. You can miss the bigger picture of a session if your head is stooped, pen scratching away. Try to just jot down some of the key points. A lot of the time you can get the presentation materials afterwards with AMA posting all the full videos of the larger sessions online, post-conference.
5. Explore the city
We’re very fortunate to have such a diverse array of arts across this country. An indication of this is the fact that no matter what city you are in for these conferences, there is always an inspiring mix of organisations from the length and breadth of the country. Being based in London, I can forget what a bubble it is and having the chance to see these other fantastic venues and meet these creative organisations is just glorious. Use this opportunity to explore the city around you. Get out of the conference centre and take in some of the local culture.
Newcastle's historic streets
Here ends my sermon. I hope this has offered some sort of guidance for those first-time attenders and maybe has persuaded some other that it is worth joining us at the next one in London.
Find out more about Sam here.