This past Monday night was the annual networking dinner that Andy Warren and I put on before the PASS Summit. Actually "put on" is a bit of an overstatement. We pick a location, call them to ask if a large group can come in, and send out an invitation. People learn about it and if they want to attend, they come and meet people and buy their own food or drinks.
Apparently people still like the idea as we had over 200 people fill up the Buffalo Wild Wings at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte. I stood out front for 45 minutes or so, greeting people and making sure they knew were to go. I bet I shook more than 100 hands in that time, introducing myself to at least half of the people and greeting the others that I've known for years. I probably got 50 hugs and had lots of conversations during a long night. I didn't get a chance to eat dinner until 10pm.
Despite the main event not starting until Wednesday, a lot of people were in town early. Some had pre-conference sessions scheduled, some arrived early to sight-see and adjust to the new time zone, and quite a few attended our SQL in the City on Monday and weren't even attending the larger conference. All of them came to meet others on Monday night.
It's an amazing happy hour opportunity for people to meet each other. Andy and I try to make everyone feel welcome, introducing people to each other whenever we have the chance. We encourage everyone to not just sit with their friends, but meet 3-5 new people and have a short conversation.
I think it works well and even though I'm not attending the conference, I did want to make it to this event and I met some new people that I'll remember in the future. @sqlhammer and Erroll from Charlotte are two that stand out, but I had lots of short conversations with others that are too numerous to mention.
If you come to the conference next year, think about attending our Monday night event. If you don't come to the conference, think about going early (or staying late) at your local user group and doing a little networking. If you go to a SQL Saturday, be sure to say hi to at least 3 new people. You'll be amazed how it goes.