Jilly: An Introvert’s Plan for RWA14

An Introvert's Plan for RWA14Yesterday Michaeline introduced the concept of the Stay-Con, a time and cost-efficient, individually tailored one-person conference held at home or a convenient location of the writer’s choosing. I’m a fan of this idea for many reasons, not least of which is that it doesn’t require interaction with other people.

I’m not shy or anti-social, but I’m definitely an introvert according to the Jungian or Myers Briggs definition. I get my energy from ideas inside my head, in my own inner world. I enjoy the company of others, but I much prefer to know a few people well rather than a wide range of people casually. So it goes without saying that a conference made up of half-a-dozen friends (thank heavens) and more than two thousand complete strangers is not my natural milieu.

The least stressful way to approach RWA14 would be to stay within my comfort zone – have breakfast with my husband, attend the workshops that interest me most, take lots of notes, ask no questions, avoid eye contact, and have dinner and brainstorm with my fellow McD alumnae. I have to say, it’s tempting.

Except that would be dumb. If I can make the effort to fly nearly five thousand miles to be part of the biggest gathering of romance writers on the planet, the least I can do is make the effort to connect with my fellow delegates when I get there. It’s not about networking in the career advancement sense. It’s about having the most complete, enjoyable and rewarding experience I can – and maybe even helping another writer or two to do the same: since most of the other two thousand participants are also writers, chances are that many of them will feel the same way I do, and I’m thinking maybe they’ll appreciate it if I take the initiative.

I know generalized good intentions won’t cut it, so I’m setting myself a concrete, specific interaction plan for RWA14. I don’t expect to become the life and soul of the party, but I reckon if I play to my strengths I can push myself outside my natural boundaries and maybe even enjoy it. This time around, I’m going to:

  • Volunteer. I’m going to spend the day before the conference with a bunch of other delegates helping to set up the author signing event in aid of literacy charities. I find it much easier to relate to people when I have something useful to do, so this is a perfect way to meet new faces and get into the swing of things.
  • Think quality, not quantity. The aim is not to hand out as many business cards as possible by the end of the weekend, but to add richness to my conference experience and (if I’m lucky) make a new friend or two.
  • Initiate. Be the one to reach out. Don’t force it, but smile, make eye contact or a small, friendly remark that invites an interaction.
  • Listen. Take every opportunity to ask other delegates about their work and learn from their experiences.
  • Share. Be ready and willing to talk briefly about my WIP, or 8LW, or McDaniel, or myself, if asked.
  • Ask questions. Not for the sake of it, but if something crosses my mind in a workshop, this year I’m going to raise my hand.
  • Remember we all have a shared interest. It’s easy to break the ice when you know what to talk about.

If you’re a natural extrovert, spare a thought for those of us that are not blessed with outgoing personalities. If you’re a fellow introvert, do you have any ideas to add to my list?

10 thoughts on “Jilly: An Introvert’s Plan for RWA14

  1. I’m not an extrovert either, Jilly, but the good thing about being at RWA is that everybody is there to connect, and a lot of people are there by themselves, and a lot of attendees are introverts. So most people are happy or grateful that you say hi, how’s the conference going for you? Your plan sounds like an excellent one for meeting new folks. And I’m looking forward to hanging out with you, too!

    • It definitely helps that a lot of the other attendees are introverts, and knowing that we already have an interest in common. And I’m really looking forward to hanging out with you, too 🙂 !

  2. As a confirmed introvert myself, I can relate. Your plan sounds like a good one. That’s pretty much what I did at my first conference, when I went alone and didn’t have a group to meet up with, and it worked out really well. I did a number of things outside my comfort zone and wound up having a great time.

    • Thanks, Elizabeth, that makes me even more convinced that it’s a good idea to make a special effort. For a few days, I can do it. And since we’re talking about meeting fellow romance writers, I think (hope) I might even enjoy myself!

  3. (-: You are going to get so many benefits from getting out there and mingling with your peers and people who can help you on your path to publishing. A stay-con is nice, and better when you are looking inward. But, at a conference or convention, you are looking outward and connecting.

    Like Kay and Elizabeth, I think there will be a lot of introverts there. In general, writing is a very introverted thing, and people will be so worried about themselves, they will be grateful for a conversational lifeline. (And if they are not, that’s THEIR issue, don’t make it yours.)

    Just be sure to schedule re-charge time each day, and things will work out OK.

    Oh, and as an introvert myself, having a good “opening line” can be helpful. It’s hard to go wrong by honestly complimenting or noticing someone’s bag, necklace, dress, shoes, etc. It might be their lucky item, and they have a story behind it . . . . Also, if you are sitting together before a workshop or presentation, mentioning to your neighbor how excited you are about seeing the presenter is also a way to connect. With so much going on at an RWA convention, you are both in the room presumably because you want to be in the room. There’s got to be common ground in that (-:.

    I admit I’ve gone up to presenters during the boring before bits (when they are alone) and said something nice about their work — I work very hard not to go all fangirl-squealy and increase their nervousness. I’ve also waited until after a presentation to go up and tell the presenter (briefly, because they are often busy packing up and talking with others) how much I’ve enjoyed the presentation. It doesn’t come easily to me, but I’ve been rewarded much more often than I’ve been rebuffed.

    And volunteering is a great idea! I worked the storeroom at Yokohama and met an online friend by random chance (and his little trick for breaking the ice was passing out some little cars for a fandom he’d picked up when some store was going out of business). I also interpreted for the Regency Dance session there, and had a blast. Volunteering gives you a better-defined role, and it’s easier to know what you are supposed to do.

    I know you’ll do great! You have a kind heart, and a great story (-:.

  4. That covers it, I think. I’m so focused on the big picture right now, that I didn’t think about the every day strategies (listen!) to reach out. Thanks so much for this great reminder, Jilly.

  5. I’m an introvert and I went to my first writing conference in April. I met lots of fascinating people by following my usual rules for such events:

    I don’t make plans to eat meals with anyone so that I get to sit with new people each time. I don’t go sit alone at a table and let strangers “pick me.” I am the picker, and I identify interesting looking people sitting alone or in twos and ask “are you expecting anyone,” never “can I sit here.” Of course they will say I can sit there, but what I really want to know is if they are about to be joined by a large group of friends where I will be the odd man out. If they’re expecting someone I move on to another table.

    I apply the same strategy to sessions- I don’t meet up with people there. I sit next to someone new each time and ask them what they know about the speaker or the topic or what they’re expecting. This way I meet someone new and get all kinds of surprising info, too.

    Most importantly, I always assume these people are going to like me. And they almost always do. I suspect this is a self-fulling prophesy rather than any kind of natural charisma on my part.

    I only give cards to potential business contacts, no one else. I’ll share my email (but not on a card, just on notebook paper) with people I really, really like. I don’t try to reconnect or deepen connections until after the event is over and I’m at home and I drop them an email. This way I meet more people and I don’t get “stuck” with someone who may be nice enough but not someone with whom I really want to invest the energy and time in developing a relationship.

    For every two hours I spend interacting with others, I spend one hour alone (room, car, shopping, whatever). That way I keep my energy high.

    Good luck, y’all!

    • I think these are great tips, Jennifer! I really like the one about “assume people like me.” I can’t always pull that off in every area of life, but when I’m at a conference/convention, I feel very much like, “Hey, we’re all book nerds here. We’re all in this together!”

      I think the 2:1 interaction/rest ratio is good, too. Mine might be higher, more like 1:1, if there’s a lot of walking involved. But, I don’t tend to count “listening in the crowd” as part of the interaction time.

      Something so exhilarating about being with other people who share the same interests!

  6. At past writers’ conferences, I’ve found that the phrase, “So what are you writing about?” starts a conversation that requires very little maintenance to keep revving forward.

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