As you undoubtedly know if you are a frequent reader of this blog (or from Justine’s post Tuesday), many of the Eight Ladies will be attending the RWA National conference in New York this summer. We have been looking forward to the event, not only to see each other again, but to learn new things, meet new people, and enhance our craft.
The other day it occurred to me that, although I had registered for the conference, booked the hotel, and made pre-conference sight-seeing plans months ago, I never actually bought the plane tickets.
My first thought after that realization was, “Yay, now I don’t have to go.”
The truth of the matter is that I am most definitely an introvert. Big crowds and busy places are very much not in my comfort zone. That’s not to say that I haven’t had a wonderful time at past conferences – I have and have learned a lot at them – but I have to make a conscious effort to do so. I love to travel, but hate to leave the house – a challenging combination.
I was a little torn when I made my plane-ticket realization, so I did what anyone would do (right?), I polled my friends for advice. Here are the three options I gave them to choose from:
1. Well, if you don’t really want to go, then don’t go
2. Just book the damn plane reservation; you know you always change your mind before a trip and then have a great time.
3. Have you considered professional help?
The unanimous decision was option 2, as I knew it would be, so I booked my tickets and downloaded the RWA app on my phone to plan out my schedule.
Now, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only introvert writer out there who sometimes has to pull up her big girl pants and leave the house for a conference or other social situation. Fortunately, one of the pages I follow on Facebook, Quiet Revolution, had a post just recently on strategies for surviving social situations.
The post, which had me at “I hate small talk with a white-hot passion”, pointed out that for many people, making it through the first five minutes of a social event can be the most challenging. It offered some suggestions for how to get past that initial period that can apply to a wide variety of social situations, whether you are an introvert or not.
Make a plan
When attending an event, it helps to have a clear idea of why you are there. Is your goal to network with new people? Connect with friends? Learn something new? Once you know what your desired result is, you can make a plan for how you are going to accomplish it. Having a plan means you don’t walk into a crowded room and then feel uncomfortable because you are not sure where to go or what to do. For work-related social events, I often volunteer to be the team photographer. It gives me something specific to do, and makes it easier to mingle with other people without feeling trapped. For a writing event, my goal might be to talk with three new writers about their book or to introduce myself to five new people.
Have some talking-points
For my day-job, we all have talking-points – planned discussion starters for those random instances when you find yourself in the elevator with a VP or an important colleague and need something intelligent to say. The same idea can be helpful for social situations. Having some canned questions like “what authors have you meet today?” or “which conference sessions have you found the most interesting” can be a good way to get things started. Of course, if you forget what you were planning to ask at RWA, you can always go with “what is your book about?” It’s a pretty safe bet whoever you are talking to will have an answer to that.
Arrive at the right time (for you)
Some people like to arrive at an event early, to get a feel for it before the crowds appear. This can be good if it you will be seated at tables and don’t want to be that person that wanders in late, searching for a seat among groups that have already bonded together. Others like to arrive once there is a camouflaging-crowd to mingle past. It can be a little more difficult to strike up a conversation if people are already talking in groups, but if people have had a chance to relax a bit, it can make things a little easier. Only you know which type of arrival works best for you, so figure it out and then play to your strength.
Bonus tip: Find a Friend
Having a friend at an event can make everything easier, giving you a built in person to talk to and/or sit with. A friend can also provide introductions to people they might know that you don’t. I am lucky enough to have a number of people I am planning to meet at the upcoming conference, though I didn’t at the first conference I attended. Fortunately, there were a lot of new-attendees, just like me and I saw several of them in multiple workshops, which meant when the seated events took place in the evenings, I was able to find “friendly faces” to connect with.
When it comes to social events, it can be tempting to
hide in your room retreat into your comfort zone, but, as this article in the New York Times says, it can be good to move out of it a bit in order to grow.
“So being slightly uncomfortable, whether or not by choice, can push us to achieve goals we never thought we could” ~ NYT Feb 11, 2011
So, introvert or not, what conference tips to you have?