When I posted on LinkedIn yesterday about how I had done ATOMICON 2024 my way, the lovely Linda Owen commented “I’m so interested in how you navigate this scale of event. It fills me with overwhelm just seeing my feed full with posts – no FOMO, just curiosity”.

Now FOMO is not something I generally experience either. In fact, I generally experience the opposite: fear of being made to do things! So, for me, missing out on something, especially something that other people think I should do is not a particular fear. I have no doubt that made it easier for me to manage this big conference in a way that worked for me.

I booked to attend ATOMICON because I could see that it was a big event where lots of people I knew were gathered. As someone with a very busy diary, any opportunity to see lots of people in one place at one time is a winner for me. So to be able to connect with lots of people in one go was enough reason for me to attend the event. To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t even really taken in that it was a sales and marketing conference. I’m not saying my sales and marketing are perfect, nobody’s are, but they are not areas I have particular concerns about. Plus, even if I did, I do not learn things well in a large auditorium full of people where I’m just being talked at. So the learning aspect for me was not a draw at all. It was all about the networking.

As the event got closer, the amount of information shared by the organisers, and the amount of different spaces attendees were welcomed to join, ramped up hugely. I know for a lot of people this was overwhelming. My approach to anything that looks like it could be overwhelming is to completely ignore it. So I read no emails, I pulled away from the Facebook group, I didn’t get involved with the app.

What I did get involved with was the WhatsApp group for the neurodivergent meetup that Lizi Jackson-Barrett had set up. And I’m so glad that I did, because that enabled me to meet loads of amazing new people, as well as already having a plan to catch up with people I knew.

Realistically, we can all only network with, chat to, connect with a limited number of people in one day. So a WhatsApp group full of new people, plus a list of about 10 or more people who I knew I wanted to catch up with, was absolutely fine for me. I did not need more than that. I went along to the neurodivergent meet up on the Monday afternoon and it was glorious.

I have never felt so comfortable in a room full of new people. There were zero expectations of neurotypical behaviour, so it was very relaxing. Using our phones whilst sat with people was not seen as rude. There was no small talk. Sitting in silence, sitting alone, taking a moment alone, was just accepted. Taking time to warm up was understood. Being really enthusiastic and excited was understood. Sitting on anything other than a chair was understood. I didn’t need my mask, and so I stayed for ages, right until we headed off to the official conference pre-party.

I showed my face at the pre party and quickly left again. The lovely Jen Heppell found me at the food van and introduced me to her gang, which was so kind. However, there was nowhere to sit down. It was incredibly loud. The expectation seemed to be that standing around in a loud room finding it hard to hear each other would be fun. Nope. So it was time to head back to the hotel and watch Netflix in bed in peace and quiet. Heaven.

By the time I arrived at the main event on the Tuesday, I had a plan. I found myself a cosy corner in the venue (in the designated quiet area that was not quiet at all, but that’s a discussion for the conference feedback form). I had a desk on a big table with six seats. I had plugs. I was close to the cafe where the coffee existed (George Tuffen clocked how important my coffee is to me!). I had brought with me a selection of items left over from my Happier Life Live event, which included plasters, deodorant, pens, tissues, hand sanitizer and hair bands. I’d also thrown in paracetamol and wet wipes, so I was fully stocked. I was sat by the wall, and close to the toilets, so felt lovely and safe.

I messaged the people I knew I wanted to see to let them all know where I was in the venue. And that was it. That’s where I stayed for the whole day. I could see people milling around, I could hear announcements, but I had absolutely no desire to move from my safe and comfy spot. I was more productive than I had been in a few weeks, I got loads of work done. And I spent the day with some of my favourite people. Jennifer Cooper and Kathryn Rodgers spent most of the day with me, which would have been a huge treat all by itself. What was also lovely though was that other people came to find me. People left their stuff with me, people left their phones to charge with me. People came to have a break, people came to use my supplies. People came to regroup, and more than one person said it was their safe spot to come back to.

By the end of the day, I had met up with almost everyone on my list, and I had also met new people and deepened my connections with the people I’d met at the ND party. Plus, I had learned new marketing techniques from two amazing professionals who sat next to me and talked to me individually, which is how I learn best. I was also able to further the plans for Happier Life Live North East, I sold a couple of my books and I did a book swap with Haroon. I made plans to meet up with people local to me, and I had an invitation to speak at a networking event. By any measure, the day was a success, and I hadn’t had to overwhelm myself at all.

I left at around 5pm and had a quiet dinner with Jenny, then was in bed watching TV by eight o’clock. Absolute bliss. I had been warned that I would feel drained and exhausted after ATOMICON, but I feel energised and as though my cup has been filled. I have come away with everything I needed, simply by doing the event my way. With no reference to any ‘shoulds’ or other people’s expectations.

What would change if you were to approach big events in this way?

Helen Calvert
The No Bullsh*t Coach
June 2024

P.S. – if you are local to me and would like to catch up again soon, please join Caroline Boardman and me at our networking event in Sale, M33, on Friday 5 July. We’re doing our quarterly co-working and networking day at The Blend Centre – you can come for co-working in the morning, for networking in the afternoon or both! This is via our Organised Entrepreneurs Club group, and everyone is welcome. You can book your ticket here.