Here’s what it’s like for introverts to decide to go to a conference:
“Oh, let’s go to a conference where you know no one, expect to mingle and ‘network.’ Up next, getting your teeth drilled by a rabid monkey.”
I get it. I get that you’d rather curl up with a good book or watch some Netflix than walk into a room full of strangers.
But there is a way for introverts to thrive during a conference—it just takes a bit of preparation to endure the bombardment of new people, small talk and constant conversation.
And by the end of this, you might actually envision not only going to a conference, but enjoying it.
Setting the Right Expectations
A conference at its core is designed to bring people together around a topic they love to meet other people and get some great content as well as nighttime outings to see the city.
But if you don’t have the right expectations of what you are going to get out of a conference, it can be a large disappointment.
Asking yourself some key questions can help you have better expectations and spend your time much more wisely. Here are some examples:
- What sessions are you going to?
- How many outings do you plan on attending?
- What are your plans at night?
- What is one speaker you want to meet? What question would you ask?
- How many connections would you like to make at the conference, someone you would follow up with?
By writing down some expectations, you can have some goals that are worth going after instead of feeling like you got nothing accomplished.
Choosing Your Seating Wisely, Sisters and Brothers
When you are sitting down at the conference, most rookie introverts sit in the back.
Don’t make this mistake. You can sit wherever you want, just make sure you sit in an aisle.
You have an easy escape if you want to relocate or you have some chat-bot sitting next to you.
How to Meet People at the Conference
It’s hard to mingle for introverts; we aren’t the kind of people who just say, ‘Hey, I’m Ryan. What’s going on with you? Tell me about your life. . .your dreams. . . .your regrets.”
It makes us cringe.
Here’s my strategy for meeting people, but not having to do any “small talk.”
Just Like Me
I find people in the mixers and “get to know you”s who are off by themselves. My fellow introverts!
They are eating alone at a stand-up table or at the bar. If they are looking at their phone, I let them be, but if someone is actively looking around, I’ll approach them and say, “Hey, I’m Ryan and I’m new here. Not great at the mingling. How’s it going?”
95% of the time the person engages. They know I’m new, I’m out of place and maybe, just maybe, they feel the same way too.
Go for the C Group
Chase Reeves over at Fizzle talks about the idea when we go to a conference we make the rookie move of trying to meet the “A group”, the speakers, the conference hosts, the A listers. We imagine we will be sitting with them in no time having coffee and becoming lifelong friends.
I’ve seen people do this over and over—and they leave the conference a bit disappointed because everyone is trying to do the same thing.
Even people in the B group, workshop leaders and other people who are much further down the road than you, have enough friends. They have enough contacts. Maybe you can connect with them. Maybe not.
But what I do is I focus on the C group. We are the first time attendees, the ones who are new and figuring out our place. The misfits. The overwhelmed. The ones who don’t know it all or even much. Maybe not a little.
That’s who I hang out with. That’s who I spend my time with. Our beer glasses clink and our laughs are loud.
We make promises we keep—checking in, mentoring, helping out, and loaning out expertise.
Find the C group.
Introverts, Have a Wingperson
If you have a bit of social anxiety, that feeling where a crowd of strangers is pretty much like being the gazelle at the jackal convention, I got you. I understand.
My buddy Dave is like that. He’s a powerful introvert, but the initial hello is what jams him up.
Do you just go up to people?
Why does small talk everyone feel so small?
What do you say? What’s a good opening line?
By the time you work up the courage, the conference is over and someone is putting away the chairs.
Dave and I met at the World Domination Summit and he enlisted me as his wingman.
Here’s how our wingman system worked. (Trademark pending.)
He’d hang out in the shadows, the dark shadows and I would meet and greet around the conference. If I was making a connection and having a good time, he would saddle up and I’d introduce him to the group.
We’d chat. Have a good time and then I’d slink away and meet another group.
We wound up meeting a ton of people, making friends, and the following year I had a picture of him on my t-shirt and underneath it read “WINGMAN.”
If you are looking for a wing-person, simply ask a more extroverted friend of yours to attend with you and help them break the ice. It will go much more smoothly.
Break Time is Your Time
If you need to get out and get some air and skip the chit-chat crowd, do so. Grab a bench. Read a book. Have some coffee or tea. You don’t have to grind it. Take a breath.
Be the Batman of the Conference
In my backpack I have a little zipper bag filled with items that some people just forgot: a couple of chargers, a couple of battery packs (the small ones that I’ve received as swag), hand wipes, and other sundries.
Without a doubt, I will hear someone lament about something they forgot. And Batman to the rescue! I’ll hand out the battery pack and charger and strike up a conversation. Huzzah! I’ve saved the day.
A conversation usually happens and they gratefully return the items when they don’t need them anymore!
The Best Journal Practice at a Conference
You want to capture all of the information at a conference; it’s normally the reason you are there. So what’s the best way? There’s going to be a ton of information—a ton.
I’ll watch most people frantically take notes of the speakers’ talk: pen in hand—huge new blank journal—and a frenetic pace.
When I’m taking a notes, I know that I’ll usually get the copy of the presentation. And frankly, I want to enjoy it. I want to be present with the speaker. So I take simple notes around these topics:
- What stories did the speaker tell? (1-3 words so I remember)
- What missteps did the speaker make?
- What recommendations did the speaker make? (Books, movies, etc.)
- What action steps should I take in the next 1-3 weeks?
This way I get the most learns out about the conference speakers and remain present. I’ll get the recording later.
Channel Your Inner Jimmy Olsen
If you snap some great photos at your conference, share them! I’ve sent pictures I’ve taken with the conference organizers as well as the speaker. I offer a quick note of thanks, how the conference and talk impacted me and give them the photos. It’s a great way to make a connection.
Volunteering But Not as Tribute
Most conferences have a need to volunteer; it could be doing airport pickups to stuffing swag bags. If you want to meet more people in a less overwhelming fashion, send an email to the conference organizers and offer your assistance.
Do One Thing Out of Your Conference-Comfort Zone
Maybe you join the treasure hunt.
Maybe you step up for karaoke night.
Maybe you decide to meet 5 new people instead of 3.
Whatever it is, step out of that shell a tad and who knows what will happen or who you’ll meet. I’m in my mid (sort of) 40s and my dearest friends are those I’ve met at conferences. I hope you find the same joy I do when I put on my name badge, see the crowds and say to myself, “This is going to be fun.”