Whether you’ve been tasked with attending one, or you’re heading to one for your own personal or professional development, it’s likely that, at some point in your life, you’re going to attend a conference.
I can’t speak to the extrovert’s experience at one of these events, but as an introvert, I know the emotional rollercoaster that some might ride throughout one of these events. The fear of approaching anyone, the awkward small talk, hiding in the corner during cocktail events, and the feeling of failure after a day goes by that you don’t feel you made a meaningful connection.
It’s a process that takes learning, growth, and practice, practice, practice. But these three tips will help.
1. Use social channels to build a relationship
In the days/weeks leading up to your conference, during the event itself, and for a few days afterward, get active on social. Using event hashtags, reach out to the Twitter handles and other accounts of speakers, panelists, or other exciting event attendees to talk about the event and things you’re most excited to learn. Ask questions and learn their insights. This will help build a few relationships with attendees and get you past that initial awkward meet-and-greet phase without any of the face-to-face interactions. After the event, let speakers know what you thought of their talk! Tell them what resonated, ask follow-up questions, and share key learnings. This will help you stand out and develop a meaningful connection that you can keep long after the event is over.
2. Bring a buddy, or find one
Sometimes, just knowing that there’s someone else you know at a conference can put you more at ease. If you’re going with a group, plan a couple of check-ins, or agree to eat lunch and/or dinner together each day. It can be easier to meet people when you’re in good company and can use your relationship to develop a comfortable rapport with others.
If you’re going solo, though, you’re not out of luck. You don’t have to expend your energy trying to connect with every single person you see at the conference. In fact, according to Carrie Sharpe, communication consultant and speaker, you just have to connect with a handful.
“Introverts can get the most out of a conference by developing quality relationships with just a few other attendees,” says Sharpe. “For those relationships, quality trumps quantity. It can feel overwhelming to try to talk to a large group of people, so instead make it your mission to choose just a few and really get to know them. You may make a friend, refer them to someone, or even collaborate on a future project.”
3. Avoid large sessions if you can—and if you can’t, use them
It’s easy to get lost in a large keynote session. That isn’t to say you should avoid them, however—just that it’s less likely that you’ll be comfortable asking a question or sharing insight when you’re surrounded by hundreds (or thousands) of others. Use those small group sessions to share key insights and engage those around you.
If you’re really excited about a keynote speech, though, there is an opportunity for you to comfortably share your side of the story. If you’re a writer, base a blog or two off the bigger sessions you attend. Avid Tweeter? Tweet the highlights using the event hashtag, and you’re sure to grow your following (and find a few like-minded friends along the way).
What tips do you use to get the most out of conferences and other networking events? Let’s chat in the comments on Facebook!
Linsey J. Morse is the Content Standard Editor and Cofounding Editor-in-Chief of Spry Literary Journal. Past lives include: Poetry Editor for Mason's Road, Student Editor for the Bryant Literary Review. Previously written work has appeared in such publications as Now What: The Creative Writer's Guide to Success After the MFA; future work includes Idle Jive, a poetry collection in progress.