By Anelle Ammons
Have you been to a conference or trade show as a newcomer, unsure how everything works, not knowing anyone there? Me too. Several times. I admit I had become quite jaded about the entire concept of going to a conference put together by an organization in which I only knew a few people. This was 100% true when I started planning a trip to #GWA2017. Fortunately, for me, my support group was smarter than me, and talked me into making the trek.
It all started with a Twitter thread about my delayed flight. I didn’t even have many followers, and people rarely interacted with my photos. As I posted pictures of my travel debacle, it helped pass the time. My flight got delayed and delayed, until it was finally cancelled, and I was sent home for the night. I had to get up at 4 am the next day to drive the hour back to the airport again to catch my new flight. My twitter tweets, tagging #gwa2017, helped pass the sleep deprived time on airplanes and on layovers.
As my day-long travel continued, and I missed the “new-bees” session, I’ll admit my spirits started to dampen. Well, let’s be honest, after I made it to the bus stop, the skies opened up a torrential downpour, so there was a lot more than my spirits that got dampened.
When I finally arrived at the hotel, after running across trolley tracks in the rain carrying my suitcase, I couldn’t get into my room. I was thinking, “man, could this trip get much worse?” The next logical step was to go ahead and get my registration badge for the conference. This was no easy feat, as I had to drag my suitcase a significant way, up some stairs, down more stairs, and all the way around to the front of the convention center. When I turned the corner to walk up to the registration desk, feeling wet, tired, and a bit downtrodden, a stranger jumped up and proclaimed “Anelle, you made it!” This was to be the first of many strangers following my twitter feed who were excited to see that I’d arrived. Being instantly recognized was exciting and refreshing.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the instant Twitter friendliness was just a glimpse into what I was going to encounter on my long weekend in Buffalo. Instead of wandering the expo lonely and confused, people continually came up to me, introduced themselves, asked where I was from, where I fit into the garden writing world, and whether I was enjoying myself. Even the booth attendants were interested in what a lost graduate student had to say about their products.
Throughout the garden tours, every time I sat on the bus, the empty seat beside me quickly filled with a smiling face ready to ask my name, where I was from, and how my day was going so far. I made new acquaintances with every garden we visited. Everyone I met was so eager to share their story, as well as to hear mine.
I learned after the first meal that choosing a table in the corner by myself meant I was about to make another 7 new friends, as people quickly filled in the spots at the empty table and started introducing themselves. Every meal was a brand-new discussion and sharing of ideas with all fresh faces.
In the evening, I only had to find myself wandering through the hotel lobby to get invited to dinner with other garden communicators. I didn’t have to find them, they were looking for other lost souls, just like me. I had several great meals out meeting new folks and learning their stories
There was even a fabulous moment when I arrived for the awards ceremony wearing the same sparkly shrug as another member, whom I hadn’t had the pleasure of speaking with yet. For some people, wearing the same outfit is a giant faux pas, but it was not for these two GWA members. We were both so excited to see the other wearing the same fantastic piece of clothing, we got a picture and made friends. I’m so glad to have met my sparkly shrug twin!
I walked into the conference center in Buffalo with several hundred strangers, but I walked out of the conference center in Buffalo with several hundred new friends. If you haven’t been to a GWA annual conference yet, #GWA2018 is your year. Wear your “First Time Attendee” ribbon proudly, strap in for an amazing time, and watch out, because all us old hats will be coming to find you and say hi.
MEET THE AUTHOR
Anelle Ammons is a plant geek, garden writer, and graduate student in horticulture at North Carolina State University. When she isn’t playing with her husband and two sons, she can be found in the garden, on a hiking trail, or sharing horticulture on Twitter https://twitter.com/anellesgardenin and on her blog https://anellesgardenin.blogspot.com/.
Click here for the Spanish translation of this post!