An Introvert’s Guide to Standing Out at Conferences

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Networking events and conferences can be stressful for introverts, like myself.  I admit there have been times that I’ve skipped a couple or put off meeting some new people because I was afraid of that social awkwardness. You know, the kind where you just want to throw a blanket over your head and hide in the supply closet.

But, the more conferences and networking events I attend, the more I realize that there are several things I can do to alleviate the initial anxiety. I’ve compiled four tips to help you get the most from these events and avoid the initial social awkwardness.

Do Your Research Beforehand

Before you attend the event, find out as much as you can about the conference, networking events, and all the venues. Figure out who the speakers are, learn about the sponsors and try to learn more about what the atmosphere will be like at the conference. Other helpful items to research are dress attire and the ratio of new attendees to veterans.

Just a couple of hours of pre-conference research can make the biggest difference between a great experience and a miserable one. After all, these events are not cheap, so you might as well get as much out of them as you possibly can.

Connect With Other Attendees on Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook Beforehand

Now, that you have done some initial research, try and figure out who is going to the conference or event. For instance on Twitter, many events and conferences have a designated hashtag. Search that hashtag to find other people who are talking about and planning on attending the conference. Start a conversation with some of those people beforehand and then set up a plan to meet them at the conference.

Also, if you plan on traveling to another city, search your Facebook friends and LinkedIn contacts for people in that city and/or people, who will be at the conference. This is a great time to reconnect with an old contact.

Listen More, Talk Less

Even when you have plans to meet people at the event, it can still be nerve-wrecking to meet a social media person for the first time. Make sure to just sit back and listen to everything they say. Take it all in, and don’t be afraid of an initial awkward silence. Once you really start “listening” to what they have been saying, you will be able to jump in and carry an intelligent conversation much easier. It will be easier to ask follow-up questions and chime in with personal and relevant anecdotes.

Live-tweet Panels and Keynotes (with the conference hashtag)

This might be a bit strange to people. Why on earth am I telling everyone to spend even more time on their laptop, iPad, smartphone, etc.? But the thing is if you start livetweeting panels, people will take notice. For starters, you are adding value. You are also keeping a digital record of that panel that you can then reference at anytime. (Hint, hint: The livetweet transcript makes an excellent blog post). You are also making it easy for both conference and non-conference attendees to follow all the action. I can’t tell you how many times people have come up and found me after I livetweeted a panel at a conference. It can be a great initial icebreaker.

What are some ways that you overcome your shyness and/or awkwardness at conferences and networking events?

Jessica Malnik is an Interactive Marketing Coordinator by day, Generation Y blogger, videographer, social media enthusiast and web designer by night. For her social media, technology, and workplace ramblings, please visit her blog.

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  • http://twitter.com/barryrsilver Barry R. Silver

    I thought I was the only one uncomfortable at these things, thanks for sharing. I recently attended a Biz to Biz Expo. I wanted to work on my networking skills. I set a goal to meet and connect with 5 new people (modest, but 1st attempt at goal setting in this venue). The goal kept me from pulling in when I was going introvert. Met and exceeded my goal, so I’m ready for next event. Advice: set a goal and go for it; it’s part of being a professional.

  • http://twitter.com/thisgirlsarah Sarah Howard

    These are great tips! As a student beginning to look for jobs, networking at conferences is important help, but also uncomfortable. I have heard a lot of people mention tweeting as a way to meet people in conferences which seems like a definite PR characteristic. It is ironic to use social media to meet people in face to face situations but a great idea to get connected! Thanks for sharing your experience!

    • Anonymous

      I’m so glad you found these tips helpful, Sarah. I always feel guilty spending a lot of time tweeting panel and speaker notes, but it’s also led me to meet so many interesting people. Using Twitter at a conference can be a great icebreaker.

  • Jamie Jones

    As an employee of my university’s Department of Residence Life and Services, I have attended various conferences. I always felt awkward, even as a communications major. These tips are fantastic for we introverts who struggle to fit into an inherently outgoing environment. I plan various leadership conferences in my position. I hope the introverted attendees of my conferences can benefit from tips like this. Great post!

  • http://twitter.com/murray_tracy Tracy L. Murray

    Fantastic recs – especially re connecting with attendees beforehand. Thanks for sharing!

  • Jerry

    Very good points for the introvert.  Being an introvert myself , I can relate to all those scenario’s.  There has to be special techniques one can use to make networking more tolerable for the introvert.  Another good source for free tips on networking your readers might benefit from, is from Paul Aaron Travis at:  http://relationshipcapital.co/op/?utm_src=bl

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