It was near-dawn on a damp October Monday in Boston. It had been raining most of the weekend before, when I was trying to sightsee on a rare couple of free days in the city.
Raining. I had, in fact, been subject to the tail end of a fierce Nor-Easterly storm. Now, though, I was relatively dried out. I was a little tired, but excited. I stood in front of a large HQ building, in East Cambridge, just across the Charles river from Boston itself, trying to figure out how to get in.
The large glass frontage was broken suddenly to my right, where a little side door popped open, and out came a friendly, smiley head, loudly and conspiratorially whispering, “Charlotte, in here!”. I trotted over, ducked in before it started raining again, and bade hello to several other faces who I was now looking on for the second time.
I’d first seen them animated just the week before, on a Zoom conference. Sat in the car, on vacation in the dark north of England on an evening call to say hello and make arrangements. These were the volunteers.
A month or so before, I volunteered to help out at this fantastic conference* – a two day event hosted by the Support Driven community at HubSpot HQ in Boston. This Leadership Summit, is the first and only one I am aware of that brings leaders in customer support, customer success, and operations, together, regardless of their industry. Here, under one roof, would be leaders and aspiring leaders from all walks of customer support and service. SaaS, eCommerce, B2B, B2C, CRMs, app vendors, finance, education, outsourcing, technologists and consultants, all there to share and learn from what, it turns out, is asurprisingly common set of leadership, organisational and personal growth challenges.
I can highly recommend volunteering at events that siren call your attendance. It gives you a fast track into getting to know the layout of the days, and you get acquainted in advance with a few people who are not only the organisers, but other volunteers like you. Plenty of opportunity for networking, making new friends, and maybe even a front place at the breakfast queue**.
There was a well-planned duty roster for all us helpers, which meant we’d have plenty to do, but also plenty of opportunity to access the event ourselves. For me, this meant one afternoon acting as a runner/photographer, and helping out with setup both mornings. Aside from being generally helpful, the rest of the time was mine to attend sessions, learn and meet all the wonderful people who I have recognised as my ’tribe’.
Support people are helpers and problem solvers by nature. They are some of the most engaging, sharing and community-minded folks you will ever have the pleasure of meeting. Imagine a room full of them. It was heaven.
My fellow volunteers all re-introduced themselves enthusiastically, and we put together some 20 display stands. Packaging, Allen wrenches and bubblewrap stashed away, we could head for the coffee/soda/water dispensers, and enjoy the rest of the day and our respective roles.
This conference departs from the norm of long presentations that require you to listen intently for an hour and make significant notes. Its format is highly interactive. Introductions before the event were encouraged (via the accompanying Slack and Google Groups). There were no nametags. Keynotes were short but thought-provoking, and other discussions centred around case studies, lightning talks and small group breakouts. The two days were single-threaded (so you missed nothing), jam-packed and great fun. The spaces, amenities, refreshments and logistics were all so meticulously planned that there was nothing that hadn’t been thought of.
The conference was just the perfect size, too. Large conferences that take over cities can seem appealing, but you can often spend more time trotting between sessions (and usually sacrificing 10 minutes of one, other or both) than on worthwhile learning and networking. This smaller group (about 200), with sufficient space and interaction in the program, allowed most people to get meaningful conversations going, get in-depth inspiration, make new friends, and discover new opportunities abound.
Even more marvellously, is that because Support Driven is a community, we have already begun to foster those relationships beyond the Summit. And I’m sure that is a process that will continue. It’s already been of huge value to me. What a fantastic experience. I’d do it again at the drop of a hat.
*You missed this year’s event, but here’s what happened!
**I didn’t claim front place at the breakfast queue, lovely though the food was. I did get to the cookies first, though.
This article first appeared on my Linkedin publications on 2nd November 2018.