That’s how I felt when I learned that the first big thing I’d be doing at my new workplace was interviewing professionals at a conference. And not just any conference, but ESOMAR Congress 2022, the market leader of market research conferences.
“It’s a great opportunity to network,” my boss said, looking meaningfully at us as she gave the brief.
Internally, I wrung my hands and let out something between a sigh and a wail. I don’t think I’m prepared!
“Conference” conjured up pictures of a serious, formal-wear event where learned scholars and experts convened to discuss matters of high import using terminology that no outsider or amateur would be able to understand. The added prospect and pressure to get something out of it made me more nervous.
Sternly, I reminded myself that this was a great opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and practice being the competent communicator I aspired to be. So, I adopted the founding value of my new organization as my North Star: research and, by extension, preparation.
I pulled up the schedule for the Congress on my screen and painstakingly wrote down the sessions I wanted to attend, plus their presenters. I looked at their LinkedIn profiles and websites to familiarize myself with their work, so I could at least approach them with a starting talking point if I wanted. I was well aware I might not get the time or opportunity, given how I had to be available to interview at the drop of a hat, but it didn’t hurt to be prepared, right?
By the time the conference rolled around, I felt excited. Of course, there were still a lot of unknown variables, but at the very least, my approach (and my wardrobe) was decided.
We arrived at the venue — the spacious Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel in Downtown Toronto — and sat ourselves down for the inaugural session. It was the first of the three accelerator sessions about asking the right questions. My curious, journalistic side was sitting ramrod straight in the seat.
From there on, it was a whirlwind of talks, interviews, meeting people, having delicious food and topping those up with the generously provided free drinks. After the first session, the first interview, and the first introduction, things didn’t seem so daunting anymore. I had a much more invigorating time than I had anticipated.
Here are my overarching takeaways from ESOMAR Congress 2022:
Being curious is the antidote to nerves
Market research is not my field. I was at ESOMAR purely from a communications perspective. The professionals I interviewed, however, shared different facets of the industry that I found nothing short of interesting.
Anne-Sophie Damelincourt, the founder of Blue Lemon Insight & Strategy, shared how the French market research industry’s Achilles heel was the fact that it was siloed. Annie Pettit PhD CAIP FCRIC, Chief Research Officer at E2E Research - Enigma to enlightenment, gave an excellent example of how Walmart was able to predict pregnancy through a woman’s shopping list when the woman herself was unaware of this. Grant Feller, Chief Storyteller at WeAreStoryMakers, and Leanne Tomasevic, Managing Director at Truth Consulting, emphasized the importance of asking different questions like ‘and what else?’ in your organization. As an outsider to the market research industry, I left almost every conversation thinking, “Fascinating.”
Wrapping up the interview with Anne-Sophie Damelincourt at ESOMAR Congress 2022
There are multiple ways to network
My first-time conference-attendee self relied on research to navigate the unknown waters of networking. However, the secret I discovered was a wonderful balance of being prepared, being ready to be surprised and having a solid conversation opener.
A couple of hours of preparation gave me the confidence to approach Grant Feller and learn more about the intersection between journalism and market research. Slipping impromptu in a session about inclusivity in advertising led me to approach Deepak Varma, Global Neuroscience Insights Executive at Kantar. We had an interesting conversation about immigration, Udaipur vs. Venice and the possibilities of neuroscience. Finally, the fact that I was there to interview people made it easy to approach them and open with, “Would you be up for sharing your insights and experiences?”
A supportive team makes everything better
I joined Humber College’s Office of Research and Innovation (ORI) 15 days before the conference was held. So, while I was introduced to my colleagues, I hadn’t connected with them. The conference filled in those gaps beautifully.
With the Office of Research & Innovation team on the first day of the conference
I observed their interviewing skills in action and picked up helpful cues from them. Later, the nine of us who were attending all three days sat around a table with plates of spring rolls and our choice of drinks. We shared our conference experiences, got an overview of potential departmental politics and basically talked about anything and everything that came up. Later that night, we attended the gala at Liberty Grand in our elegant best and returned home much later than expected, maxed out on dancing, laughter and the satiating glow of having had a good time with the best people around. Of course, we were back at the venue the following day — fresh-faced, professional and ready for it all over again.
For many, conferences might become taxing or boring. But, for me, the secret to a satisfying time was people. Be it the ones I already knew from the office or the unfamiliar faces who flew in from different countries to share their experiences — actively interacting with, listening to and learning from people was a throughline that enriched my time at ESOMAR Congress 2022. I’m grateful that my first two weeks at Humber’s Office of Research & Innovation consisted of such a professionally expansive opportunity.
Now, if only I could attend next year’s conference in Amsterdam!