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Alt Summit SLC 2014 – Photo Credit: Brooke Dennis via Flickr
When I first got into blogging several years ago, I really threw myself into it. I read books, posted in forums, participated in webinars, basically anything I could absorb about the business of blogging. Before I knew it, I got carried away and I found myself suddenly signed up to attend three blogging conferences in a four month period! The only problem was … I’m a total introvert. Yep, I’m that girl who ate lunch by herself in the bathroom in high school. I’m that girl who doesn’t make eye contact unless absolutely necessary. I’m that girl who always preferred online socializing to real life human interaction.
Oh geez … what was I going to do???
Luckily for my first conference I went with a friend, which is good and bad. It was easier to walk into a room full of strangers with someone you’re comfortable with alongside you. But for the first part of the conference, we found ourselves sticking together. For the afternoon sessions, we were assigned to different tables for each session, which forced us to move around the room and meet new people. And luckily, every session started with a business card exchange and it wasn’t too difficult to find someone you could connect with (“Hey, you’re from Los Angeles? Me, too! Hey, you blog about weddings? Me, too!”). By the end of that first day, my friend and I, who are both somewhat shy, were chatting it up with anyone who would walk by.
I’m still pretty shy and socially awkward, but here’s the thing to remember about bloggers and most solopreneurs: we all are to some degree. We all chose a life where we work from home, usually alone or with small humans or animals, and communicate with clients via typing instead of speaking. There’s nothing wrong with that. But attending conferences and meet-ups and interacting with each other is important if you really want to learn new skills, collaborate with other companies, and grow your business. And if you want to do all that, you can’t be a wallflower.
So if you’re shy like me, I have some tips for you.
The Introvert’s Guide to Networking
Set goals. Why did you sign up for networking event? Don’t say to “to meet new people” or “find collaborators.” Be specific. My goal for one conference was to gather thoughts and opinions about a new website idea I wanted to start. Another conference I set a goal to pass out 300 business cards, creating 300 new contacts and 300 new pairs of eyes on my business. One friend told me she had a goal of connecting with three specific conference sponsors. Another friend had a goal to find and build collaborations with all the bloggers in her same niche. Yet another friend wanted to get better at using her DSLR, so offered to take free headshots for attendees (she was quite popular). By the way, all these “friends” of mine? They were not friends before I met them at networking events.
Get awesome business cards. Speaking of cards, I would strongly suggest getting some professional cards verses printing your own (unless you’re an amazing designer with professional printing equipment). If only because nice cards are an instant and easy conversation starter. Moo and Minted both offer eye-catching, easy to use business card templates. I personally use Moo for my business cards and I always get compliments! Having a unique or interesting business card is often an instant conversation starter. And make sure the card clearly shows off what your do and how to find you online.
Bring your credit card statement with you. If you paid to attend the conference or event, seriously, print out the receipt or statement and carry it with you. When you feel like leaving early or hiding in a bathroom stall for half of the event, take out that statement and remind yourself how much money you spent to be there. Are you getting your money’s worth? Are you letting this networking opportunity slip away? Will you have any regrets on the trip home?
Take a moment if you need it. No one is perfect, so don’t try to be. If you’re feeling overwhelmed – really overwhelmed – take a moment for yourself. I had some social anxiety during a party at one conference and had to go back to my hotel room and cry a little bit. But I gave myself a pep talk and got back in the game. I could have changed into my pajamas and climbed into bed at 7pm (I really wanted to). But I fixed my makeup, got back out there, and actually talked with some fellow attendees about my dumb feelings and felt a million times better.
Be yourself. The buzz around some conferences can make you feel a little intimidated about your appearance. But, I promise you everyone there wants to meet the real you. If you feel better wearing a cute skirt and heels when you’re networking, then do it. If you wear jeans and sneakers every day, dude, rock your jeans and sneakers to the conference. When I went to Alt Summit for the first time, I stressed hardcore about my outfits. And you know what? No one really cares. If fashion’s your thing, then by all means, dress it up, go bananapants. But the bottom line is to wear whatever makes you feel CONFIDENT and comfortable.
Have you attended any networking conferences? What advice would you give to introverts about attending a conference?
This article originally appeared on Blogging It Forward in January 2014 and has been updated.