How to Be An Introvert and Still Succeed at Conferences

all you need is courage

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I am firmly introverted. I am not shy (I used to get the two confused, but they are very different things). I find the idea of a room filled with strangers both exciting and exhausting. I love my alone time. I also love talking to new people about things we are passionate about. I am happy and content with all these elements of me.

There are times, however, where being an introvert can be challenging:

  • Going to a party solo. (How do I get involved? What if I look like a loser, sitting by myself? What if no-one wants to talk to me?)
  • Turning up to a networking event alone. (Small talk, strangers, awkward introductions. Exhausting.)
  • Attending a conference without knowing anyone. (These people all know each other. They don’t need to talk to me. Argh!)

 

I recently attended my first blogging conference – solo. 200+ bloggers, one room, 7 teaching sessions, working lunch, drinks, networking opportunities, famous faces, groups of online friends…and me.

And do you know what? It was awesome.

I bit the bullet, applied my lipstick and faked the fact that I was confident, until I actually did feel confident. I met wonderful people, learned a ridiculous amount about writing and may have shared a few (too many) cocktails late in the evening.

(Confession: I was on the brink of leaving the after-party when I called Ben).

Me: (Sniff) I’m going to go home. No-one’s talking to me.
Sparky: Just take a sip of your drink and try one more time. Give it one more shot.
Me: (Unconvinced silence).

I stayed another 5 hours.

How to be an Outgoing Introvert at a Conference:

1. Body Language Matters:

  • Be open – don’t stand in the corner with your arms crossed, eyes cast down.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Smile readily, at lots of people.
  • If you feel awkward, hold a drink in your hand and wander the room.

2. Speak Up:

  • Say hello. (What’s the worst that could happen? The person ignores you? So what – that’s their loss. You’re awesome and they miss out on your company.)
  • People attend these events to connect with new people. So take a breath and introduce yourself. Ask them questions about their website/company/blog.
  • Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to someone you recognise/hero worship.
  • If you run out of things to say, simply ask questions about the person you’re speaking to. Married? Single? Kids? Pets? Travelled to be here?

3. Ignore Your Inner Mean Girl

  • Despite what your inner-critic may be screaming at you, you are not the only person in the room who has arrived alone. There are likely many others in exactly the same situation. If you see someone standing alone, go up and say hello.
  • You are interesting.
  • You are there – which is fabulous. Do you know how many people were too afraid to even take this step?

4. Be Yourself:

  • Not everyone you meet will be your new best friend – and that is perfectly OK.
  • Be open, be confident in who you are and what you do and expect others to do the same.

5. Be Prepared:

  • If applicable, bring business cards along. They are a great ice-breaker/conversation booster.
  • Have a brief description of your blog/job/company/website/book prepared for the inevitable question of, “And what do you do?” Resist the urge to spew this out robotically though – people don’t want to be pitched at. (Check out this episode of the Fizzle Show for a great how-to on creating the perfect elevator pitch.)
  • Have some go-to topics in mind for when conversations slow down. If all else fails talk about the sessions you’re attending.
  • When a conversation moves to its conclusion, just excuse yourself. No-one expects that you’ll be talking exclusively to them the entire day.

 

And that is how I didn’t fail miserably at my first conference. I didn’t have a group of friends to rely on, and the whole experience was better for it.

Have you turned up to an event on your own recently? Did you dwell on the fringes for a while, or dive right in?

 

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19 Responses to How to Be An Introvert and Still Succeed at Conferences

  1. Tony Kwan says:

    I thought you were a great conversationist at the lineup. Nice meeting you, and catch you around the conference – Tony

  2. It was a pleasure meeting you Brooke and I would never had guessed you were an introvert. This is a great post for bloggers who are not sure whether or not to go to a blogging conference!

    • Brooke McAlary says:

      Thanks Nic. Was awesome chatting with you too. :)

      After 30 years, I think I’ve finally accepted the fact that I am an un-shy introvert. I need my alone time to recharge and love my own company, but particularly over the past year I’ve learned how to channel the extrovert for certain periods of time. And it’s good fun!

  3. Came across your post via the #WDS2012 feed. I was at Blogopolis too but we didn’t get to meet.

    I find your post fascinating, as well as the introversion/shyness talk in general. I’ve always thought I was an introvert. I was also very shy when younger, the one who’d turn bright red whenever my name was called in class, the one who held back in group discussions for fear of saying something stupid. Over the years I’ve changed and am willing to speak more, make the first move sometimes in meetings/conferences, or just be comfortable on my own. I’m just so curious with the feed from #WDS2012 about what type of introvert I am now. Could I be a “quiet extrovert” instead?

    In any case, your conference tips are really helpful, essential reading even, for anyone scared about going to one. I think at the end, we always gain do much more if we allow ourselves to be open to the experience, even if it’s just conference content, rather than being scared no one will talk to us.

    • Brooke McAlary says:

      I think I saw your Twitter handle on the wall during the day! Would have been lovely to connect – hopefully next time though.

      You know, that’s really interesting. The idea of being a quiet extrovert… I feel like an anomaly at times, because I’m often not quiet, but NEED my alone time to recharge. Regardless of how much I’m enjoying the company of those around me, I will always get to a point where my energies are depleted.

      I completely agree that we gain more from our experiences if we do allow ourselves to be open. Thanks for such a thought-provoking comment, Veronica! x

  4. Tony says:

    Great post Brooke! As Tony K as has – I thought you were a great conversationalist, and as Nicole has said, I would never have picked you as an an introvert. You handled it so well! I think your post is brilliant – and like so much of your posts it is valuable and relevant information. I can’t wait to put it into practice. Thanks again!

    • Brooke McAlary says:

      Thanks Tony! Must admit, being surrounded by so many fabulous people made it easier to mingle.

      Was awesome to meet with you, and I’m stoked to hear you’re finding the posts helpful and useful. :)

  5. Seana Smith says:

    Hello Brooke, just heard of your blog today, I didn’t get to Blogopolis this year sadly, really enjoyed this post from you. Just read your story and it totally resonates. Parenthood changes everything, and you need to face the demons as old ways of coping work no longer.

    I’ve always been an over-doer and in my old age am trying very hard to do less. Off now to sign up for your posts by email and to join in your journey and learn alongside you.

    • Brooke McAlary says:

      Hi Seana, Thanks so much for taking the time to say hello! I’ve spotted your name around the blogosphere many times.

      You’re so right in saying that parenthood changes everything. My old coping mechanisms lasted about, oh, 15 seconds once I became a mum. And it’s something that you can’t (well I couldn’t have anyway) prepare yourself for. The learning curve is certainly steep. But always worth it. x

  6. Kacey says:

    This describes me perfectly! I’m going to my 1st blogger conference in a couple of months so I’ll definitely be using some of your suggestions. Great info!

    • Brooke McAlary says:

      Thanks Kacey. Let us know how your first conference goes. The first I attended was only a couple of weeks ago – I have already signed up for my next one. There is something amazing about sharing space with people who get it. And are happy to talk geeky and techy with you.

      You’ll love it, I’m certain! :)

  7. Oh you could have just as well been writing about me there. I recently went to the Etsy Success conference in Sydney on my own. I did know some people that were going but was big and brave and went around on my own for quite a while. There have been a few other events though that I have chickened out on, next time though, I’ll give them a try :)

    • Brooke McAlary says:

      Melanie, that’s super brave! I used to sell a lot on Etsy, back in the day, and the thought of mixing it with the big guys would have terrified me. Hats off to you!

      All I can say is, harness that bravery and say yes to the next event! :)

  8. Tracy says:

    Hi Brooke,

    A girlfriend of mind sent me your blog this morning – Thank you! Your words resonate very strongly with me and my own experiences. I love the idea of “Slow your home”. My journey is taking a turn now too, I plan to take time, breath and live life a little more consciously from here on.

    Thanks again
    Tracy

  9. Lisa Marie says:

    LOVED this. You rock.

  10. I needed to read this now! Get psyched for ProBlogger next week but I am nervous as anything about the first bit: arriving and trying to connect with people face to face.

    I love the bit about ignoring the inner mean girl. My inner mean girl can be a bitch.

    V.

  11. Julie says:

    I so needed to read this! I’m going to ProBlogger and am nervous. I’m new to Melbourne, I’m still considering starting a blog, and I don’t know a soul. I will do my best to connect with people, but being a newbie, I do feel a bit like I’m crashing a family reunion. Sounds like everybody has the same nervous feelings sometimes.

    See you all this week!

  12. AL says:

    Very late commenter, but can’t help myself. I rely on my job in the front office of a high school to force me to mix…and I love people! I just love my own company on my 5 acres as well…this is the reason I haven’t tried to stay at home to write, because I feel like I would lose touch with the outside world.

  13. Meri says:

    Hi Brooke,
    I really enjoyed reading this. I have always thought of myself as an extrovert (and others agree), but I find all of those things intimidating as well! Maybe if we realize that we all have similar feelings, it will be even easier to jump in.

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