I only just started going to conferences like, not even, a year ago and I still find it challenging to go up to people and introduce myself. Conferences are not only about learning and workshopping new ideas and trends, but also collaborating with new people, and creating connections.
If you’re oftentimes shy like me, this can be a problem.
Worst of all, being a social media manager… It’s technically inherent that I’m supposed to be social, since it comes with the job. And I am very social… But behind an avatar. And I’m only fully social once I’m comfortable with the person/environment.
Either way, through my conference adventures I’ve come up with some really easy ways to socialize with people.
1. Wear a shirt from your favorite “___”
This one is tried and true. Nothing sparks more conversation like a band t-shirt or sports jersey. You’re bound to meet someone who shares the same interest, or none at all. Maybe the person doesn’t like said sports team or band.
Either way, a discourse emerges and a connection is made on some type of level. Conversations start on something that isn’t work-related and you slowly ease into professional dev talk. Before you know it, you’ve made a friend and someone you can sit with anytime during a lunch/breakfast/reception. From there, you’ll meet their conference buddies.
2. Talk to presenters after their talk
If you’re really engaged mentally with a talk, go up and chat with the presenters. Tell them you really liked this one idea from the prez and start from there. Ask them what they think about certain challenges or how they’ve overcome specific obstacles from their prez. Make sure you tell them who you are so they can remember you as well.
3. Think of three questions you should ask everyone you meet
This one is kind of important, especially if you don’t have much to keep the conversation going with. Just have some questions in your arsenal ready for any type of moment. My favorite question to ask: “So what exactly are you trying to get out of the conference?”
This question gets people thinking about why they came there, and getting both you and them collaborating on possible ways to solve issues, or recharge the brain.
Ugh, I hate admitting this but alcohol can really help out with camaraderie and easing you into conversations. Every conference I’ve gone to, people love their beer. If there’s a reception/after party at the conference, ask someone what they’re drinking and see what they recommend. They can give you insight on a beer they like, and maybe you can even buy them a round. It’s all about just easing into a flow of dialogue with someone. Before you know it they’re introducing you to their friends at the table on the corner.
5. Never fear a night in
Sometimes, you just need to relax and stay in. Whether it’s the first or second night, you’re allowed to not be social at times. Giving yourself one night of the conference to just stay in and work on other things can be very valuable. It gives you time to reflect, or time to just watch TV.
6. Follow the conference hashtag
Every conference has an extremely active Twitter hashtag. Conference attendees will be tweeting like crazy about all of the insights and stuff they’re learning, as well as possible plans/outings. Take advantage of the conversations and engage with them. Maybe set up a meeting with them, or just go up to them after talking and introduce yourself in person. Communicating on Twitter is a good way of easing into a real-life connection with someone in or outside of your field.
7. Keep in touch with your new friends
Stay up to date with the friends you’ve made on Twitter after the conference. This way you’re able to see the work they do, as well as share yours. Some are very active in the digital community, and they participate in live web talks or Twitter hashtag chats. Doing this will help you meet new people in the same realm… ones who will most likely be at the next conference you go to.