6 Ways Introverts Can Avoid Feeling Shy at Conferences
Attending a conference can strike fear into the hearts and minds of entrepreneurs who are self-admitted introverts. While some people love to get out and network, others are more comfortable sitting behind their computer screen rather than making social conversation face to face.
Here are some steps you can take to feel more confident and better prepared for a conference.
1. Watch for opportunities to help.
Don’t worry about yourself; instead, focus on the needs of others. Put your own fears aside and know that you’re not the only one who feels anxious walking into a room full of strangers. Ask yourself, “What can I do to help someone else at this conference?” When you meet someone new, ask a few questions about their work or experiences, and see if there is anything you can do to help them achieve their goals. Try to find out about others and how you might be able to add value for them.
2. Prepare your opening lines.
Think through the range of people you will likely meet and develop a couple of opening lines that will help you break the ice. Introduce yourself and start with open-ended questions. For example, you might say, “What did you enjoy most about the session this morning?” Or, “What inspired you to attend this conference?” Or, "Can you tell me a little bit about your work?" Listen carefully and show a genuine interest in the other person and sooner or later you may discover that you both have a lot in common.
3. Start connecting before you go.
Find out who else will be attending your conference. If you have friends, make lunch, dinner or coffee dates with them throughout the conference. This network will help support you, give you something to look forward to, and provide you someone to sit with during meals.
If there is a speaker you're interested in meeting, Google them ahead of time and get some ideas for possible topics of conversation. Reach out prior to the conference via email or LinkedIn to set a date with them. They’ll likely respond with enthusiasm because you showed an interest in them.
Related: 7 Ways to Increase Your Charisma
4. Practice your pitch.
People will invariably ask you, “What do you do?” or “What’s your business?” Develop a brief description that tells others not only what you do, but how you can help them. For example, “I am a REALTOR with XYZ Corporation with a strong track record in helping people buy and sell historic homes in the Richmond area.''
As your conversation progresses, give concrete examples through stories or anecdotes of how you have helped some of your clients.
Volunteering to an event is the shortest route from outsider to insider. You’ll feel much more comfortable when you are a part of the action, and conference managers certainly could use the help. An assigned task will take your mind off of “what do I say?” and put the focus on “What can I do to help?”
Look for volunteer opportunities where you help set up, answer questions, collect evaluation forms or greet newcomers. Volunteering is an especially good way to develop interactive skills. It gives you a feeling of actually belonging instead of merely wanting to belong.
6. Rest and rejuvenate.
Many introverts need solitude to get re-energized. Plan some quiet time in your hotel room, work out for a half-hour in the hotel gym or take a walk outside. Make self-care a priority in your schedule.
The key to success is a focus on quality instead of quantity. Don't pressure yourself to meet hundreds of people. Focus on making connections with a few key people at each conference you attend and your network will steadily grow.
Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla. She is the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).