A few weeks ago I attended the Podcast Movement Conference in Chicago. In addition to learning valuable tips for growing your podcast, part of the intention when attending something like this is to make new connections. Connections with mentors, connections with fellow podcasters, and connections with potential guests.
But what if you just don’t feel like it?
Yes, even an extrovert like myself can feel like hiding in my hotel room over small-talking with strangers.
I’ve realized that despite my ability to connect quickly and easily, a lot of that is dependent on context.
How much pressure do I feel to engage?
What is the likelihood that we will be able to bond over something other than just the conference topic?
How organic will this conversation feel?
Since so much of anything is mindset, including networking, I wanted to highlight some ways that you can set yourself up for connection success even when you’re not feeling particularly social.
Whether you’re a natural introvert, or just not feeling very outgoing, following some (or all) of these tips can pull you out of your shell and help you make the most of any conference or event.
1. Talk to Vendors & Sponsors.
One of the easiest ways to get warmed up is to engage with the booth vendors. This is helpful for a couple reasons. First, they're there to help you and/or sell you on what they have to offer. This can make it feel like you have the upper hand in these conversations. Having that slight feeling of authority can help you relax because you can guide the conversation without worrying about whether or not you're actually "connecting" with them. Though, to be honest, it's much more fun if you do!
One of the reasons it's so fun to talk to vendors is because they've been sitting there all day saying the same thing over and over. If you can be the one person who comes to their table, makes them laugh, and breaks their pattern a little bit with some banter, it's better for everyone.
Here's a pic of me and the guys at the Zenolive booth (A company that gives podcasters a phone number that listeners can call to hear the 5 most recent episodes. This is great for listeners who aren't particularly tech savvy, or individuals who would rather use minutes than data). This vendor booth was by far my favorite. We had a great rapport, and immediately felt like friends. My time with them was well spent and I was easily more open to chat with other attendees after visiting their booth.
2. Go with a Buddy.
While it can be easily to use a conference buddy as a crutch to avoid engaging with other attendees, it can also be really beneficial. If you can convince a friend to attend with you, then it can be easier to approach other groups or people. You'll also have a go-to person when you need to sit and mentally recharge. Nothing wrong with that!
Having a friend in tow can also increase your odds of connecting with people and making post-conference plans because you can divide and conquer. He or she may connect with people that you could benefit from meeting, and vice versa.
3. Attend un-conference Events.
At most conferences, there are a slew of activities and meetups not on the printed schedule. These can be planned, or spontaneous, but both are beneficial in their own right. I find that even when you're feeling zonked after a day of seminars, rallying to go out and grab dinner or a drink usually proves to be fruitful. This is when everyone can let their hair down a bit, and when you can really connect with people on a more human level.
It's in these times that friendships, partnerships, and the best memories from the event are formed.
4. Give yourself some recharge time.
Know thyself. If you're someone who feels like a million bucks after a 20 minute nap, by all means nap. Protip: this is where staying at the conference hotel can come in handy.
If you get cranky from four straight days of airconditioning and artificial light, then get that ass outside. There's nothing wrong with taking a solo stroll through the park, to get some vitamin D and process what you've learned and who you've met.
There's no "right" way to do conferences, and everyone's needs are different. For some people, the structured networking inherent with events like this is preferred to the after-hours happy hour vibe that feels more comfortable to others. The trick is to listen to your body, and do what works best for you. Knowing that ultimately you want to get the most out of your experience, don't let you be the reason you don't connect with people.
Let me know what you think of these tips!
And if you want even more free advice on the topic, check out my interview with Podcast Movement Speaker, Christina Canters:
If you want even more free advice on the topic, check out my interview with Podcast Movement Speaker Cristina Canters: Networking Lessons with Kimberly Rich