I am firmly introverted. I’m not shy necessarily (I used to get the two confused, but they are very different things) but 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 these opposing 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!)
Over the past few years I’ve been to a number of networking events, parties and conferences on my own, and the experiences – while terrifying at the time – have been phenomenal.
The first time I went to an event solo I hid in the toilets for half an hour, trying to work up the courage to mingle in a room full of strangers.
But eventually 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 lot and may have ended up sharing a few (too many) cocktails late in the evening.
How to be an Introvert and Still Succeed at Conferences:
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 actually better for it.