How an Introvert Can Extrovert at a Writing Conference

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 @agwickedspiritsย at WDC and @verycelesteย 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 ย 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.):

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Smile, approach, and ask what do you write? People like to talk about their passions and everyone at a writing conference enjoys writing.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Have your business cards on hand to swap. That way you can build on the connection you made.
  7. 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.
  8. 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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53 Responses to How an Introvert Can Extrovert at a Writing Conference

  1. limebirdbeth says:

    Congratulations! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Cat Forsley says:

    NICE !!!!!!!
    “BE YOURSELF NO MATTER WHAT THEY SAY ”
    ๐Ÿ™‚
    I LIKE PUBLIC SPEAKING ——- CALM THE MIND ———- AND EVERYTHING ALWAYS GOES SMOOTH ——
    SOMETIMES —— THE MIND IS THE WORST ENEMY !
    ONCE WE CALM IT DOWN ———- SOUL SPEAKS – HEART SPEAKS FREELY ๐Ÿ™‚
    GREAT POST MISS K ๐Ÿ™‚ XXC

  3. Great tips. I’m glad you had a good time in the end. I’m exactly the same when it comes to meeting new people – if I’m by myself I’m a wreck, but if I have even one person I know with me then I’m absolutely fine. Next time I’ll try your tips – I think they’d work in a lot of situations, not only at a conference.

    • Thanks! Me too. It’s really nice to hear that you experience it too because most of my friends don’t. I used to think it was just me. Which of course made me more nervous and uncomfortable and unable to connect. You’re probably right. A little more challenging at a party to find common ground, but I guess you could ask how someone knows the party thrower as an icebreaker though. Let me know how they work outside of conferences. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. crubin says:

    As an introvert myself, I appreciated this post. When I go to conferences in the health care field, my pulse quickens when I see the attendees are seated at tables rather than lined-up chairs. Oh man, now I need to talk to others! I am hoping to attend some writing conferences in the future, so thank you so much for the tips!

    • Carrie, the dreaded face each other situation. ๐Ÿ™‚ My nerves always translate into sweating from my face. It’s gross and makes me more nervous. I actually have to dress for nerves and wear layers I can strip off. I also get that clenched gut of where do I sit? Which table looks easiest to interact with? Good luck at your next conference!

  5. Eurgh, I hate networking. I’m rubbish at small talk and find presenting at conferences in my professional life much easier than attending as a delegate!

    Well done for going for this and the great advice to other people in the same situation.

    • Sally, it’s always been something I avoided. I’m terrible at small talk when I overthink it or feel pressured to do it well on the spot. Wow, I think presenting would be harder for me. Thanks, I hope it can help someone else out in a similar situation. I can’t believe it took me so long to figure out how to do this. People gave me advice but I needed something tailored to my thought patterns. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Good for you for stepping outside your comfort zone, Kourtney. Kind of you to share your great tips!

    • August, it was actively cringing at my past performance and deciding to take the reins with my future success. It’s funny how simple it was when I wrote the post, but at the time it felt revolutionary. Maybe because I won an internal battle. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. These are some great tips, Kourtney! I wish I had insight like this before coming to the conference, especially since it was my first one.

    There is surprisingly little information about how to approach conferences online, so it’s great that you’ve written this post. It’s a huge help!

    • Thanks Jess. I struggled through a few conferences always watching others and wishing I could be that confident and self-assured. And the more awkward I felt, the more awkward I acted. It was a viciously painful cycle. I’d sorta given up and decided this is just a permanent weakness of mine. But I was reading about how important social networking is to being an author in this century so I decided I had to work on it.

      Honestly, it was very hard to admit I had social anxiety and accept it as a part of my personality. But once I stopped fighting myself, I found ways to work with it. I noticed the lack of info on-line too. And judging by the tweets before WDC lots of people have nerves/anxiety before conferences. Hope it helps on your next conference.

      And for what’s it’s worth, you came off as very composed and together when we chatted in line. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. I used to have to do this routinely as part of my job. I would fly to a strange city and do pre show work and have to interact with rooms full of people that were total strangers to me. It was so hard but after a while I got good at it. Congrats for doing it!

    • Susan that’s amazing! You must have a ton of charisma. I felt like this was my best round of conferences yet because I finally got out of my own way and made some wonderful connections with some kick-ass writers.

  9. jmmcdowell says:

    What a great post, Kourtney. You could’ve been describing my reaction at social events. Especially those where I don’t know anyone. For me, I’d add that I’m always worrying I’m wearing the wrong clothes, I’ll spill my drink on someone, people know I don’t really belong there…. You probably get the picture!

    But those are great tips, and when I finally brave my first conference, I’ll try to remember them!

    • JM, It’s amazing to know I’m not the only one! Good additions too. And once your mind gets on all those worries, it’s hard to interact with everyone around you.

      Conference dress code is the worst. They will say smart casual or dress appropriately. That’s too vague for me. I wore jean and a sweater and felt so underdressed. Now I wear loafers, slacks, a turtleneck and sweater or jacket. I want my clothes to tell the editors and agents I take writing seriously and I understand pitching is akin to a job interview.

      BTW, I dropped food on the floor at SCBWI. But I just figured well at least it wasn’t on someone. ๐Ÿ™‚

      And if you need a pep talk before your first conference, drop me a line at kourtney.heintz@yahoo.com. I’ll be glad to cheer you on! ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Laura says:

    i am the SAME way. I hateeeeeeeeee talking to people out in public. If I’m lost I just wonder around lost rather than ask for help. It drives my husband bonkers. These are all good tips, now I just hope someday I’m as brave as you are to go forward with it! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • LOL. I hate hate hate it when everyone in a room has a connection and I don’t. I was at the hairdresser today and all the stylists were talking around me. I felt so out of the loop and uncomfortable. I’d have left if my stylist wasn’t doing my hair. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Thanks! I tested them all out first. You’ll be brave enough to go forward. After all your hard work, your manuscript will demand it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. winsomebella says:

    You are amazingly energetic and smart. And generous because you share your know-how.

    • Aw thanks so much! I’ve figured out stuff as I went along. Sometimes it was a tad painful. That’s why I want to share whatever I’ve picked up. Maybe save other writers a skinned knee down the road. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. I love this post. ๐Ÿ˜€ These are great tips, and I can definitely relate. (In fact, when I first saw your photo from the cocktail party, I remembered how intimidating that night was!) I’m very shy too, especially when I’m trying to get up the nerve to start a conversation. There were definitely a few awkward moments during the conference where I couldn’t figure out what to say to the people next to me. But then talking with you was so much fun that I forgot to be nervous; moments like that made stepping out of my comfort zone worth the effort. I’m so, so glad you took the risk with me! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Thanks! Katrina you looked so stylish in your hat, I was a tad intimidated. ๐Ÿ™‚ But as we started talking I was like she’s so cool, I gotta get to know her more.

      I wish we could have met up for the cocktail party. It was hard seeing so many people already mingling and having to walk in alone. Worst worst fear. But we did it! Thank goodness we got seated together for the Writer’s Roundtable. Knowing I made a new writing buddy, made me more confident in approaching people.

      I had some awkward moments too. I cut myself some slack heading out at 7:20, after I’d talked to two dozen people at the cocktail party and my brain approached social fatigue.

      And you were very much worth the risk! BTW, for your first conference you were poised and very together and I loved your business cards.

      • I wish we could have met up for the cocktail party too! In fact, I was keeping an eye out for you. But I arrived a bit late, and there were so many people there that I couldn’t find anyone from our Roundtable session. (I did see Cheryl Klein, but I didn’t have the guts to approach her. She’s such a rockstar!) I mostly hung out at my regional table, which turned out to be fun.

        I’m so glad I seemed poised. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve never been to a professional conference of any kind, so I was hoping I would be able to carry myself well. It helped that everyone was a writer or illustrator. Like you said, it gave us all something to talk about! (Though I know exactly what you mean by social fatigue… I kept crashing in the room at night, trying to recharge my conversational batteries.)

        • I was looking for you too, but it was so crowded I couldn’t find you. I stayed in the back room near the New England South table. ๐Ÿ™‚ I met my regional people, met some NJ people. It was pretty nice. I liked that they gave us a place to anchor everyone by region. I saw the girl who sat on my left at our roundtable once on my way back from getting those delish mini cupcakes. Oh, I could not approach Cheryl Klein either. It’s hard to network with editors and agents without a talking point and I liked your presentation doesn’t do it. I can never think up a really good question to ask on the spot either.

          Very poised. You carried yourself very well. The first night, I was incoherent. My cousin was like are you drunk? I was like nope, social fatigue and brain mush. ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. Sounds like you had a lovely time – thanks for sharing the experiences

    • I really enjoyed the conference especially because I wasn’t so caught up in my own head worrying about having to network. ๐Ÿ™‚ It was nice to not be dreading it like I usually do. Glad you enjoyed the post. ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. Lisa Hayes says:

    Thanks for the great post, Kourtney. I’m used to being in a bandโ€”my peeps always by my sideโ€”and the WDC was daunting for me also. I’ll keep your tips handy for the next conference!

    Also – I gave you a shout out in my latest post! http://lisahayesblog.com/2012/02/13/your-muse-hello-old-friend/

    • Lisa, glad you liked the tips. I was telling my friend about how I learned to navigate myself and networking and he kinda smiled. I was like I know it’s bizarrely simple but it took decades to get. ๐Ÿ™‚ And thanks so much for the shout out! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  15. 4amWriter says:

    Love this, Kourtney. As you well know, I freaked out when I went to the Writer’s Digest conference in 2011. My post was long enough about the anxiety I felt just going to the NYC, that I didn’t write about how anxious and nervous I was while at the conference.

    I so know what you were experiencing.

    I love your tips. I never thought to engage with another attendee beforehand, that’s a great idea. Then again, I wasn’t actively blogging prior to Jan. 2011. However, if I were to plan to go next year, twittering with someone ahead of time is something I shall do.

    Love the need for an exit strategy. I hate hate hate it when conversation dies and you’re standing there like a twit. Food is always a good excuse.

    Standing in line is a good way to meet people. Everyone asks everyone else about how the pitching is going or what your story is about. It helps to know that other writers are feeling just as nervous as you are.

    Thanks for a great post!

    • Thanks! LOL. NYC can be a very scary, intimidating place. Throw in pitching and the nerves are overwhelming. I admire you for going and doing!

      Glad you liked the tips. Years of dealing with nerves taught me to have a buddy of some sort in the room. Or fool myself into feeling like I did. Definitely do the hashtag ahead of time. The presenters are also on there, and breaking the ice on Twitter makes you feel less alone.

      Oh yes. I hate the dreaded silence. I met some lovely people in the Pitch Slam lines too. Total camaraderie there.

  16. amymarie says:

    I know how you feel. I have that same problem, too. I feel so awkward in large crowds!

    • Thanks for stopping by AmyMarie! It’s really nice to know I’m not alone. I think the trick is to focus on it person by person. Otherwise, the crowd feels so unapproachable and intimidating. ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. This is great advice. I feel overwhelmed in a crowd when I don’t anybody, but breaking it down will help the next time. Thank you.

    • Thanks Shelley. I totally understand. I was always the shy chubby kid that got teased. So groups tend to make me very nervous. But I tested these methods out at two conferences and I promise they worked. ๐Ÿ™‚

      The trick is to stay in the moment. Don’t worry about how you perform or if you might make a mistake. You can rate yourself later. Just be you. And if you’re making up cool stories, it means you are already very cool. ๐Ÿ™‚

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