Thursday, November 19, 2015
The Conference Survival Guide for Introverts
So, for the last two days I've been at the Receivables Management Association of Canada Conference in Toronto -- it's a gathering of financial institutions, telecommunication companies, trustees, law firms, collection agencies, delegates from the Credit Institute of Canada, and more. It's a great event that's a playing field for folks who are normally competitors or opposed service providers to break down barriers and share information -- which is awesome. I've gone to four RMA conferences over the last five years, and every time I come away having learned something.
On the second day, I was pretty beat, over tired, and suffering from information overload, and went to the lobby to decompress, and I had a chance to catch up with my friend Nick, and we had a great talk about introverts versus extroverts, conference 'pods', and selling without selling. He also tried to get me in trouble with passers-by, and plied me with guilt over a missed coffee day a few weeks back (but that's okay, I can take it).
On the drive home I thought about some of the new people who came to the RMA for the first time, who probably felt a bit awkward and on the edges, and it occurred to me that this particular conference has gotten easier to attend and enjoy each subsequent year, and the longer I've been involved, and it also occurred to me that I could share some 'survival tips' for new or unknown attendees to any conference.
Everyone Feels Awkward
If you are a people watcher, look at what groups of veteran attendees do at conventions ... they stand in 'pods'. Small circles of people who already know each other, who maybe even work together, huddling together for survival. That's a sign that everyone including you finds it a bit awkward to make new acquaintances and get to know new people.
But that's the point of a conference, isn't it?
You can catch up with your co-workers when you are back in the office. You can share a beer with the people you know at the end of the day. Break up the 'pod' mentality and go say hello to someone new.
When you are talking with someone, be open and inviting -- don't have your arms crossed, and don't 'close the pod', by forming a closed tight circle. Leave an opening or room for other folks to come and join the conversation (as long as it's not a sensitive conversation -- that's different). When someone walks up, try to include them in the conversation, introduce yourself, ask what they do, and be polite and welcoming.
Talking to the Talkers
So you need to find someone to talk to -- why not start with one of the speakers? The first RMA conference I saw the keynote speaker (who also knew no one) standing on the sidelines before he want to give his amazing presentation. I went over, said hello, and asked about his topic. He was thrilled to meet someone new, test run his ideas past me, and chew my ear off. And you know what? It was awesome -- I enthusiastically chatted with him about his ideas and thoughts, and other people at the conference came and joined our conversation. We were the 'pod builders', not the 'pod breakers'!
If you aren't sure what to do, go talk to one of the keynote speakers after they've talked, ask questions about their presentation, take them up on their offer that they publicly made to share power point slide decks or resource links, or just take the time to meet them. That's a great place to start.
Another great option is talk to the organizers of the conference about volunteering, what's involved behind the scenes in running he show -- not only are they going to be passionate, you never know if they might need a volunteer to help them out...
Too many people at conferences are too busy being important, being 'bigger' in their industry than they really are, being smarter or more successful than everyone else in the room -- and that's a road to nowhere. Just be yourself, don't worry about what anyone else thinks or see it as a competition for ego, and be accepted for who you are.
The Introvert Mantra
Shy people survive day to day without issue -- because they don't need to break the ice with their family, their co-workers, and their friends. They've already gotten past the awkward part. If you aren't sure where to start, stop dreading the need to start and just start -- after you introduce yourself, or ask a question, or introduce the one person you've gotten to know to someone who wanders into the conversation, you'll find you are part of the accepted conference community sooner than you might think.
Once you have one or two people past the introduction stage, it gets easier to meet folks -- they can introduce you around. Smile, shake hands, and roll with it.
I think the Introvert Mantra should be "Don't dread starting, just start".
Conferences are amazing opportunities to meet people, renew friendships, learn new things, and create professional opportunities. They are not special events to self-promote, hide in a corner, or duck out early. Going to a conference is work -- hard work for people who aren't normally outgoing. But if you start with small steps and stick with it, it's totally worth it.
If you have a need to talk about conference etiquette, or are interested in the Receivables Management Association of Canada's conference (which should be coming up in about 364 days by my guess).. I'd be happy to share what I know ... give me a shout.
KINGSTON Data & Credit
Posted by Blair DeMarco-Wettlaufer