7 practical tips to survive your first World Water Week as a WASH newbie!
Last August was quite an exciting month for me. I finished my Masters dissertation and I got this amazing opportunity to present my research at a session on shared sanitation at Stockholm World Water Week, one of the biggest annual conferences in the water sector. In July I’d gotten my first WASH job, at the Austrian Development Agency, they were somehow really cool about letting me represent them during this year’s conference.
This was all very exciting, but also extremely nerve racking as I had to go to some high-level meetings where I felt a bit out of place. I kept thinking “Wait a minute? Am I an adult now? Am I supposed to say smart things now?” Oh, well.
Anyways, it was a great experience and I encourage every young professional to participate at World Water Week (WWW) if possible. To make your first time even more enjoyable, I created this survival guide with 7 very useful tips for you.
#1 Plan your toilet breaks.
Yes, no jokes. WWW is a seriously big conference and the toilets are quite far away. Also, your time frame is ridiculously small because first you go to a session, afterwards you probably end up talking to someone and then there are two likely scenarios: (a) you end up running to the next session (b) you end up running to wherever (coffee, toilet, etc.), but then again you meet someone you want to talk to, which is good for networking but not so good for your bladder.
Also, fun fact: Interestingly for a WASH conference on social inclusion, this year there were more male toilets than female. It’s fine.
#2 Bring snacks.
Coffee and snack breaks are only twice a day, at very specific times. Probably to get people to go to the sessions and to make sure that they don’t hang around the coffee place chatting. Fair enough. There is a café place where you can buy food and coffee whenever, but as mentioned before, your time frame is a constraint. So, if you want to keep your blood sugar level high, I recommend bringing snacks. This way you even get to have time to go to the toilets. Cool, right?
#3 Know how to eat.
Okay, this one might be more specific to me. I am quite a clumsy person, so of course I ruined my name tag, which is only good if you want everyone to know what you had to eat in the last couple of days. And yes, everyone looks at your name tag. Everyone. If you are like me, either learn how to eat OR (which I recommend) turn around your name tag so it is on your back – like men do with their ties when eating – because I promise you will look like a super professional.
#4 Check LinkedIn.
If you have meetings scheduled with someone you haven’t met before and where you have no clue what they look like, I recommend checking LinkedIn to avoid weird blind date situations where you stare at people and check name tags of random persons like I don’t know … the King of Sweden … okay, no, the King of Sweden had no name tag, but he was there! I also had no meeting with him, but you get my point, right?
#5 Be brave.
You remember back in school when the teacher would ask the class something and literally NOBODY wanted to go first and there was this very particular silence and everyone looked away to avoid the teacher’s look? Well, some things apparently never change. I witnessed quite a few meetings where exactly this happened. So, what I’m trying to say is, when you are in a room full of senior experts, don’t be scared to be the first to speak. They might have more experience than you have, but your input as a young professional is just as essential and in the end - even with years of experience - some group dynamics apparently never change.
#6 Ask specific questions.
Probably the most useful tip of this blog post. Networking is important, but in my opinion it can be tough and exhausting sometimes. If you seriously want to get to know someone, check out their most recent work and when introducing yourself ask a specific question about it. People love to talk about their work and it is a great and easy conversation starting point. Small talk won’t do the trick.
#7 Find allies.
So, heads up. Everyone seems to know everyone at WWW, which sometimes makes it hard to keep up with the conversation - or rather makes you feel like the girlfriend that just got introduced to her boyfriend’s group of friends with all their fun insider jokes, where you stand next to them, say nothing and smile. Don’t get me wrong, this is absolutely fine and also quite an interesting experience, but for me it was always really nice to talk to a fellow young water professional, who also doesn’t know everyone and is experiencing the conference exactly like you. So, go to the Young Water Professionals networking events. You won’t regret it!