This article was previously published in the OHTN's online newsletter Did You Know.
OHTN: Is there ample networking time at the conference? When's the best time to schmooze?
Leahy: One of the highlights of the conference for me is meeting people from the community, many of whom I've known for years, and catching up. There are lots of hugs to be had here. But there are always plenty of new faces too and it's also good to connect with them. Go out of your way to talk to people you haven't interacted with before. There is much to be had here from sharing of knowledge and personal experience. It's good to pay special attention to newcomers who are maybe there for the first time; welcome them into your circle or to your table. And if you are new yourself, you'll find many people who will give you a warm welcome.
OHTN: If I'm a shy person, what's the best way to approach people?
Leahy: Try not to wait for people to approach you. Take the plunge and jump right in. If you are looking for a table to sit at but don't know anyone, look for friendly faces, introduce yourself and be prepared to chat. Remember that everyone here - whatever walk of life they come from - has something in common, some connection with HIV, so ask them what theirs is. But personal connections don't have to be just about HIV. Ask someone where they are from and you invariably have the start of a conversation.
OHTN: What's the best way to acquire people's contact info? And to give my own?
Leahy: You'll find some people may offer you their cards. Keep them all - you never know when you many want to connect. Alternatively, write down your email/contact information and give it to anyone you have common interests with, or consider having your own cards made. It's possible to make lasting relationships here, business or pleasure, that will endure the years so treat every person as a new opportunity to connect.
OHTN: Are there planned social events at or after the conference?
Leahy: You may be tired at the end of the day's sessions - it can be quite exhausting taking in everything - but if you have the energy, your day of networking, sharing experiences and meeting people need not end there. The reception on the first day is a must - nice nibbles, nice people to talk to and prime schmoozing time. After that, evenings are on your own and give you a chance to have dinner with newfound friends in one of Toronto's many great eating spots. The ethnic food is good in particular here. Or check out Toronto's gay village, centred at Church and Wellesley, for lively fun.
OHTN: What's the best way to unwind after a long day at the conference?
Leahy: Your hotel, the Hilton, has, in my opinion, the best beds in town, so don't be afraid to sink in to those fluffy pillows. I've not always abided by this rule myself, but in hindsight I can say it's important not to overdo it during your time in Toronto, so let sleep be your friend. It's considered bad form to be late for morning sessions, even worse for being absent from them (a conference no-no), and you want to be bright and alert, so a good night's rest is more important here than ever.
The deadline for scholarship applications is also October 15. Financial assistance is available to Ontario residents who have financial limitations that would otherwise exclude them from attending. Travel, accommodation and meals are covered by the scholarship.