I recently attended the CAST testing conference in Madison, WI and was really glad that I went. While driving there I was nervous, as I am shy and an introvert — but I also know that a lot of the value you can get out of a conference is talking with the people there. I did not want to be this guy, sitting in a hotel room and missing out on the interactions with the other attendees.
So what did I do to make sure I got more from the conference than just listening to the speakers? Here are 3 tips:
1. Be Active Online
For introverts/shy people, the internet can be a much easier way of meeting people than having to go up and talk to them. Once you’ve made contacts online, then meeting them in person at a conference is easier. And if they happen to be an extrovert or more comfortable socially, they will often come up to you and start the conversation. At one session that I attended, I knew 21 out of the 26 people there through Twitter, and it was like meeting friends rather than a room full of strangers.
2. Take Time to Recharge
Make sure you take some time to find a quiet place to recharge your energy and reflect. This was easy at CAST, as the conference center was on the edge of the lake. Sitting at a window looking out at the boats made for a very relaxing 15-minute break. To make sure you get quiet time, there is always the excuse that you “have to check some work mail” or “have to return a call.”
3. Set Yourself Small Challenges
I set myself a Breakfast Challenge: find someone sitting on their own at breakfast (lunch and dinner work as well, but starting the day off like this can be a confidence boost) and go sit with them. Find out how many conferences they’ve been to, what brings them to this conference, etc.
I also set myself a Question Challenge: at the end of every session, ask the speaker a question. A possible drawback with this one is that you focus on thinking of a question rather than the content of the talk!
Follow these tips and then take The Restroom Test: take a walk to the restroom and back and see how many people that you did not know previously nod in recognition or say Hi. By the second day of the conference, I could count on getting at least 5 nods of recognition during my walk.
If you have any tips on how to deal with the social whirl that going to a conference can entail, please let me know in the comments.