Why a Startup CEO Should Volunteer at a Conference

Casual Connect Amsterdam is about a month behind us now. It was a really great experience for us at SOOMLA. This is the third time we are attending Casual Connect, the 2nd time I’m a speaker at the event and also the second time we are volunteering to help.

Reasons for Volunteering at Conferences

Why did we volunteer to help at the indie game showcase?

There are quite a few people who found it odd that I’m volunteering at the conference. In fact, I’m the only speaker who asked to also volunteer according to the guys at Casual Connect, so I guess it is a bit unusual. For us at SOOMLA volunteering is almost a no brainer. SOOMLA is an open source company and so contribution, sharing work with the community and helping indie game developers out is a second nature.

However, it was such a great experience that I think more startups should at least try it. I’ll focus on my experience and try to share as much as I can. Generalizing my experience would make it mostly relevant to developer focused companies but the same principals could easily apply for companies with other target audience.

What does volunteering mean?

My volunteering experience is with the Indie Showcase at Casual Connect. The volunteering included arriving a day early to brief and help set things up. The main task was helping the indie developers to showcase their games. Making sure their game demos are functioning as planned, learning about their games and helping with demos. In other words, act like you are on the developers’ team.

Is it embarrassing in any way?

One of the things that I was most concerned about is how to save face. What would people think about me if they know I’m a volunteer? Well, like with many other things in life I discovered that the demons were mostly mine and most people don’t care. Of course, I didn’t know that at the beginning and I stressed out enough to prepare some canned responses. Being both a speaker and a volunteer made it clear that I’m not volunteering to save the price of the ticket so part of my canned responses were focused on emphasizing that I’m also a speaker. Other responses I prepared for myself were around being an open source company and wanting to establish a culture of contribution. However, most people didn’t detect that we weren’t regular attendees and the ones that did figure out we have some role in the organization of the event though we are simply part of the staff.

Having a role breaks the ice and makes interactions meaningfulVolunteering at the casual connect event allows for meaningful interactions with mobile game developers.

One thing I liked the first time I volunteered is that it forced me to engage in conversations with other people. Sometimes, coming to a new event as an outsider is not easy because a lot of the people already know each other. Being part of the group of volunteers means that you already know a few people when the first day of the conference arrives. Moreover, the Indie showcase volunteers’ role is to engage in conversations with game developers so you have no doubts when you randomly start conversation with people. Finally, when you do talk to indie game developers, you are helping them out – the chances of them remembering you from all the people they meet is 10 times higher.

Getting backstage access helps you prepare

As part of the event operation you get to know the event team. This is a huge asset down the line as you want to become a speaker, do something extraordinary that will get you remembered or simply get introduced to someone. At the last casual connect, we handed out SOOMLA t-shirts – having a place to store them really helped. At a show before that, I was able to get a mailing list of all the indie game developer simply by knowing who to ask.

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