So, a comment on Twitter last night made me realize how many strategies I’ve developed over the past few years to deal with being shy and introverted in a conference environment. To anyone who has met me and is laughing at the thought of me being either shy or introverted? I rest my case as to the effectiveness of some of my strategies! Caveats that these are still very much a work in progress, they function best at small-to-midsize conferences, and I don’t always practice what I preach 🙂
So, without further ado, some strategies that will hopefully be of help to other folks as well:
1) Remember that self-care is more important than “networking.” If you start to hit the end of your abilities to cope with people and bounce off a reception/event/invitation, don’t beat yourself up over it. It takes me much less time to recover from oversocialization if realize I’m at my limit and manage to step back before crashing.
2) Find a conference buddy who is willing to be your social “home base” for some of the breaks, meals, and group events. Ideally said conference buddy will be less shy/introverted than you are, and/or know a few people you don’t and can introduce you to them, but that’s not necessary. You just need someone you can hang out with so you don’t feel socially isolated.
2a) If you have a really good friend, you can also room with your conference buddy to save money and improve the ease of schedule coordination.
3) If possible, make plans to eat with folks in advance. I find that figuring out group meals is one of the most difficult parts of conference networking because it’s far harder to casually fall into a meal group than to have a quick chat during a coffee break.
4) If you’re alone during breaks/receptions, you can hover for a bit (a minute or so is usually my max) near groups of people that are having interesting conversations and/or include someone you sort of know. Sometimes the circle will organically open to include you.
4a) If you’re in one of those groups and see someone hovering alone, physically move a bit to open the circle and give them space to join you. Introverts helping out other introverts for the win!
5) If starting up an in-person conversation with strangers is too hard, try chatting to folks on Twitter during panels then going up to meet them afterwards. “Hi, we were just talking on Twitter earlier and I wanted to introduce myself in person” makes meeting new people a lot less stressful, especially if you can then continue a conversation you started online.
6) Acquaintance chaining works. You know one person who introduces you to a person who then introduces you to another person and suddenly you hit the point where you start to know a lot of people.
7) Reassure yourself that communities build over time. The first several conferences can be hard, but eventually you’ll hit a tipping point where you’ve met enough people in the community that things get easier. They never get EASY but if conferences were easy, then we wouldn’t be introverted, now would we?