Conferences Tampa Bay

Make the most of the “Hallway Track” at poweredUp Tampa Bay!

Joey deVilla and Anitra Pavka “work the room” at a Tampa Bay tech event.
Me and Anitra, working the room at a Tampa Bay tech event from a little while back.

The Hallway Track

It’s been my experience that some of the most important things I’ve learned and all the connections I’ve made at conferences didn’t happen at the presentations. Instead, they happened during informal and spontaneous conversations that started between presentations — typically in the hallways between the lecture rooms.

This observation is so common that it’s given rise to “unconferences” like BarCamp, whose purpose is to invert the order of things so that the conference is more “hallway” than “lecture theatre”.

Banner: poweredUP Tampa Bay Tech Festival - May 17th, 11 a.m. - 6 p.m., Mahaffey Theater, St. Petersburg, FL.

I’m not the only person to refer to this phenomenon as the Hallway Track, and it’s a great opportunity to chat with speakers, organizers, and other attendees.

At a locally-focused conference like poweredUP Tampa Bay, the Hallway Track is your best opportunity to make connections with other techies and tech-adjacent peers who live and work here in “The Other Bay Area!”

You never know where it will lead. I’ve made connectionss and friends at poweredUP, and during the 2017 edition of the conference, a conversation I had there led to my landing a job.

In this post, I’ll show you my tricks for making the most of the Hallway Track at poweredUP Tampa Bay.

Have a “personal elevator pitch.”

A personal elevator pitch is simply a single-sentence way of introducing yourself to people you meet at a conference. You will be introducing yourself over and over again, and it’s much better to have an introduction ready that to have to make it up on the spot each time.

My personal elevator pitch these days is something along the lines of “I’m a rock and roll accordion player, but in my main side gig, I’m the guy at Okta who shows mobile developers how to secure their apps, and in my side side gig, I put together the Tampa Bay tech events list and run a couple of coder meetups in town.”

The personal elevator pitch is an idea from Susan RoAne, an expert at navigating the Hallway Track and author of How to Work a Room: The Ultimate Guide to Making Lasting Connections In-Person and Online teaches, and it works. It’s pretty simple:

  • Keep it short — no longer than 10 seconds, and shorter if possible. It’s not your life story, but a pleasantry that also gives people just a little bit about who you are.
  • Make it fit. It should give people a hint of the cool stuff that you do (or, if you’re slogging it out in the hopes of doing cool stuff someday, the cool stuff that you intend to do.)
  • Show your benefits. Rather than simply give them your job title, tell them about a benefit that your work provides in a way that invites people to find out more. Susan RoAne likes to tell a story about someone she met whose one-liner was “I help rich people sleep at night”. That’s more interesting than “I’m a financial analyst”.

My suggestion: Come up with your own personal elevator pitch while on your way to poweredUP!

How to join a conversation

You’ll probably see a group of people already engaged in a conversation. If this is your nightmare…

Click the screenshot to read the Onion article.

…here’s how you handle it:

  1. Pick a lively group of people you’d like to join in conversation. As people who are already in a conversation, they’ve already done some of the work for you. They’re lively, which makes it more likely that they’re open to people joining in. They’ve also picked a topic, which saves you the effort of having to come up with one. It also lets you decide whether or not it interests you. If they’re lively and their topic of conversation interests you, proceed to step 2. If not, go find another group!
  2. Stand on the periphery and look interested. Just do it. This is a conference, and one of the attendees’ goals is to meet people. Smile. Pipe in if you have something to contribute; people here are pretty cool about that.
  3. When acknowledged, step into the group. You’re in like Flynn! Step in confidently and introduce yourself. If you’ve got that one-line summary of who you are that I talked about earlier, now’s the time to use it.
  4. Don’t force a change of subject. You’ve just joined the convo, and you’re not campaigning. Contribute, and let the subject changes come naturally.

Feel free to join me at any conversational circle I’m in! I always keep an eye on the periphery for people who want to join in, and I’ll invite them.

Show and tell

Me and Ryan Miller Galamb at PyCon US 2023 last month.
The odds of two people bringing an accordion to a conference are pretty low.

Nothing attracts our eyes like something shiny, whether it’s an interesting piece of tech, a new book, a new t-shirt you’re fond of, or even some local knowledge, such a new restaurant, cafe, or bar that just opened. It’s why I carry my accordion around; I think of it as a device that converts curiosity into opportunity (and music as well). Got an interesting thing or idea? Got a neat project that you’ve been working on? Whatever it is, park yourself someplace comfortable in the hallway, show it off and start a conversation!

Follow the Pac-Man rule

If you’re forming a conversation group, try to keep it Pac-Man shaped — that is, a circle, but with a bit of an inviting opening so that other people can join in.

Invite people to join you for lunch

There will be food trucks outside the venue between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.. If you see someone eating lunch alone, invite them to join you!

“Touch grass,” as the kids say these days

Creative Commons Photo by Taylor Bennett Jordan.
Tap to see the source.

Don’t forget that:

  • The Mahaffey Theater is in a beautiful location: downtown St. Pete, right by the water and the Dalí Museum,
  • You don’t have to sit through every session,
  • Nothing stimulates a good conversation that going outside for a walk

If you’ve got a conversation going, or want to start one, suggest that everyone step outside, or as the kids these days say: “touch grass.”


Yes, you’re there to talk, but so is everyone else. Make sure you listen to other people in the circle as they speak, and ask questions, too! One of the reasons you go to poweredUP is to get exposed to new ideas, and learning goes beyond the talks. Try to learn three new things at every event.

Put your stuff down

Carrying your bag or other stuff is a non-verbal cue that you’re about to leave. If you’re going to stay and chat, put your stuff down. When you’re about to leave, pick up your stuff and start saying your goodbyes.

Play “Conversation Bingo”

Created by Molly “Web3 is Going Just Great” White.
Tap to see the source.

If there are certain topics that you’d like to learn about or people you’d like to have a conversation with, put them in a list (mental, electronic, or paper) of “bingo” words. As you converse at the conference, cross off any of those topics that you cover off the list. This trick forces you to become a more active listener and will help you towards your learning goals. Yelling “BINGO!” when you’ve crossed the last item on the list can be done at your discretion.

Regular readers of this blog probably where I stand on the topic of Web3, hence the bingo card above.

Look for the Okta people and the accordion!

We’d be happy to chat with you, and I assure you, we’ll be easy to find. Come say hi!

Who wants to hit Beach Drive or The Pier afterward?

The Mahaffey is pretty close to a lot of good places to go for dinner and drinks afterward. That’s a good opportunity to keep the Hallway Track going!

I’ll see you at poweredUP!