Confession time. This is my worst nightmare. Having to walk into a crowded room and start up conversations with strangers especially if they know each other and I don’t know any of them.
Whenever I get invited to parties, I bring a friend. I need that buddy/wingman to help me walk in and navigate the night. But conferences are something I have to do alone. Gulp.
I get social anxiety. Severe sweating from every pore in my face. Heart racing. Mind blanking. Attack of I have nothing to say.
And then I think everyone will see me by myself all awkwardness and socially exiled.
Logically, I know no one cares if I stand alone, but in my mind they do. My uncomfortable factor creeps closer to 10.
So with all that going on in my head, how did I navigate not 1 but 2 conferences in January?
By not letting this thought pattern take control. Or at least it did but in a tiny nook of my brain.
I don’t like feeling so stressed about networking. I want to have fun. I really do.
But this is me. Nervous nervous overthinking everything. I require planning to be comfortable. So I create coping strategies before the event. Ways to ease my social anxiety and allow me to be the best me at the conference.
Before each conference, I went on Twitter and tweeted with another attendee (Thank you @agwickedspirits at WDC and @veryceleste at SCBWI) Just knowing I knew one person in the room helped.
At WDC, I met up with a blogger buddy and hung out with her the whole first day. (Thank you Emmie Mears) Having someone to sit with during the first couple panels allowed me to get comfortable. Having a buddy to chat with and ask how I was doing made me feel so not alone throughout the conference. Emmie was a beacon of light at the WDC conference.
Whenever I felt nervous, I reminded myself that everyone is there because they write and they want to work on their book and hopefully get it published.
That gave us a common goal we all wanted to talk about. All I had to do was approach someone, smile, introduce myself, and ask, “What do you write?” That was how easy each conversation began because everyone wants to talk about their book.
And when that petered out, our name badges said where we were from. So conversation starter #2 was right there.
By having a way to get the conversation started, I wasn’t in my head freaking about what to say while that period of not talking stretched into unbearable.
I had a fun conversation with the writer beside me at SCBWI. We had an upcoming free lunch period. I decided to be brave and ask her if she wanted to get food together. I got to have lunch with the amazing Kat Bender and found a wonderful new writing buddy.
I’m not going to say it was easy, because frankly I was totally outside my comfort zone. But I considered every conversation a success. Some led to new critiquing buddies, some to new bloggers to follow, but all in all I connected with people. And that was the goal.
From my experiences, I put together these general tips on how an introvert can extrovert at a writing conference (I’ll be referring back to them before the next conference.):
- Try to connect with people online before the event. On Twitter, follow the hashtag for the event. That way you feel less nervous walking into that crowded room on the first day.
- Try to meet up with people you talked to online about the event. It gives you something to do and helps you meet cool people in person.
- Smile, approach, and ask what do you write? People like to talk about their passions and everyone at a writing conference enjoys writing.
- While in line, make conversation with the person in front of or behind you about the food/venue/speakers. Everyone has an opinion and they want to share it.
- Have exit strategies for when the conversation peters out and before you start to feel awkward, like I need to go say hi to X, Excuse me I have to powder my nose, or I’m going to get more food.
- Have your business cards on hand to swap. That way you can build on the connection you made.
- Be yourself. Don’t try to be anyone else. Acting is hard work and you can’t really connect if you aren’t being you.
- Make sure to build in down time at night. You need to recharge your batteries for the next day of socializing.
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