How to avoid the “Help, get me out of here” moments
I never do this – attend conferences alone.
But I attended the National Speakers Association’s Influence Conference solo because my girlfriends aren’t in this line of work … and no one wanted to come to Orlando in the middle of July just to stay in a hotel.
On the plane ride down, I couldn’t help but ask myself: “Why are you doing this, again? You know you like a wingman at events!”
I then had to laugh at myself – “Come on, Angie. Be a big girl. You love people – stop acting like the shy little girl you once were.”
You see, I grew up painfully shy – so much so that my sister would have to talk for me in certain situations. (Oddly, I would bite people, but I wouldn’t talk to them … but that’s a separate story!)
When I walked inside the kickoff event set for 1100 people, I made the strategic choice to sit at the end of a row – just in case I needed a quick exit. What a relief it was when a woman sat down next to me, another solo attendee, and said, “Mind if I sit here. I’m slightly overwhelmed.” And there you have it, friends – I found Conference Buddy #1.
Right after the opening act, I went outside during the break, and you’ll never guess what happened? A woman standing near me pointed out a salamander and said, “Look at that? I guess I’m always surprised when I see them. We didn’t have them in Michigan growing up.” I introduced myself to my fellow Michigander, and when she shared her name I stopped in my tracks. “Gina, I know you – we ran track against each other in high school.” And just like that, Buddy #2. What a surprise!
Pretty soon, I no longer felt like a new student at high school. And I’ve got to admit: all of this seems so silly to write. I’m a Marine for crying out loud. I’m not afraid of dying for my country. I’m also an entrepreneur. I’m not afraid of investing in an endeavor. But put me in a room full of strangers, and I’m afraid of chit chat??!!
It’s ridiculous. But it’s honest! And I know I’m not alone, that’s why I’ve written this:
An Introvert’s 5-Step Guide to Conference. Ready?
1. Know Your Why. Understand why you’re entering into a networking experience. Know the value of the experience and don’t let your nerves talk you out of it.
2. Meet People 1 by 1. You don’t have to make friends with everyone on the first day. Find a person, then another person. Build your network throughout the experience.
3. Tap Out When You Need To. Catch a breather from time to time – step outside, be alone, get your energy, and go back in there.
4. Be Vulnerable. Just as my Conference Buddy #1 did to me, be honest with others about how you feel – it’s a great conversation starter and you might discover you’re not alone.
5. When in Doubt: Ask Questions to Draw Attention Away from You. This is my secret skill. I like to make the other person talk. I ask question, upon question, just to keep the conversation off of me – this works best with an extrovert, of course. For my introvert connection, I try not to make them feel that they’re being interrogated.
Overall, I left the experience feeling quite fulfilled by all that I learned, as well as inspired by all those I met. It would’ve been a tremendous shame to have missed out on such an incredible experience just because I was too chicken to go at it alone!
Do you have any networking tips? Send them my way!!