A “Functionally Shy” Person’s Guide to Attending a Conference

categories: Lifehack

jetThe room was full of podcasters, my people. I wandered around not talking to people but listening carefully to see if I would recognize someone’s voice from their show. I sipped a glass of wine and got in the long line for hors d’oeuvres. I listened to the music and then after an hour I left. I never talked to anyone. I am shy.

Fortunately, that was not this year but instead my first ever party in the podcasting / blogging space at the Podcast and Portable Media Expo of 2005 in Ontario, California. Now Ontario is not a very intimidating space. The music at this party was not so loud that we could not talk. I can’t imagine how I would have reacted if that party was instead one of the parties from this years BlogWorld / New Media Expo 2009 in Las Vegas. I think I might have actually imploded.

As I walk around the convention center of the parties in the big hotel discos this year I greet numerous friends. I am still shy but I am now “functionally shy” and this is how I got there.

Start Small

At the 2005 show I did finally get bold (for me) and strike up a conversation with a few people. I had some wonderful conversations primarily with lesser known podcasters although I did chat with Rob Greenlee who now heads up the Zune podcasting effort at Microsoft and briefly chatted with Chris Pirillo before he did Gnomdex and live streaming.

Acknowledge

If you have a blogger who you love to read or a podcaster you love to listen to and you see them in the lunch line, the hallway or the expo floor tell them you like their work. Better yet, be specific. I talked to Brian Ibbott of Coverville last night and even though I have known Brian for years I was sure to say that my favorite episode of his show was an episode of Originalville featuring the original songs that Elvis Presley covered (and if you have not heard the originals of Blue Swede Shoes or Hound Dog it is quite a surprise). SImilarly I introduced myself to Andy Walker, now of the Butterscotch Network, and told him I remembered the illustrations he used to do to explain technology with food on the late Call for Help show. We had an interesting conversation about how that all came about because he could not get a budget of $500 to illustrate the workings of a transistor so he ended up it doing it with a $50 block of cheese.

I also met Jeff MacArther of CommandN in the hallways and I told him how much I enjoy his show. We only chatted briefly and did not establish the kind of relationship where we will be exchanging Christmas cards this year but we had a nice encounter and that’s a start. I am always honest. When I met Jay Berkowitz of Ten Golden Rules I griped about the quality of one of his last interviews and he shared how frustrated he had been also that the “podcaster” he was calling could not give him a clean audio feed.

How much do you enjoy it if someone says they love your work. One of the highlights of the show for me will be Mignon Fogarty of GrammarGirl, who is an acquaintance and whose work I greatly admire, saying that she loved my enhanced podcast work on the Amateur Traveler and thinks that I do that better than anyone. Heck, I think that is one of the highlights of the year.

Participate

BlogWorld is a show for bloggers and podcasters. If you don’t read blogs or you don’t listen to podcasts then frankly you are going to be a bit boring to this crowd. I subscribe to something like 60 podcasts (did you know you can now listen to them at 2x the speed on the iPhone). When I go to a show with podcasters I have something to talk about. I follow lots of bloggers on Twitter and love their blog posts and their tweets.

Connect Others

I love to connect the people I know. Even when I only knew 6 podcasters / bloggers I wanted to make sure they knew each other. I know I have appreciated all the people over the years who have said “do you know?” and it is my turn. Last night I was able to introduce Jessica of Italylogue who is moving to Italy to Paulo Tosolini of Microsoft / Italy from the Inside. They quickly started speaking in Italian and I was out of the conversation but that did not bother me because I could see how excited they got.

Be Low Maintenance

Some of the most popular people I know get really really busy at events like BlogWorld. I chatted briefly with Cali Lewis of GeekBrief but I don’t expect to spend much time with her and Neal at a show like this. They will be running around like crazy interviewing more popular people than me. It is not because we aren’t friends. It is because they are doing their job. I try and be helpful if I can and then I try to give them space.

Jeremiah Owyang is an acquaintance I have met through work. I chatted briefly with Jeremiah about his new job but pretty much only asked him that one question because others wanted to talk to him. Friendship is a long term thing and there is nothing wrong with being an acquaintance. Every conversation does not need to end in a book deal, trip invitation, joint venture, contract or technical breakthrough.

Find Other Parties

I went to parties at JET at the Monte Carlo, Lavo at the Palazzo and the Bank at the Bellagio Hotel. I won’t say they were bad parties but they were not the sort of party where you were going to have an interesting conversation and get to know someone. They were the kind of party where you would get hoarse trying. The best party to meet people that I have seen so far was the RawVoice party. By the way it was also free and had free drinks and food. If you had stopped by the booth they would have given you an invitation. Look for small meetups, breakfasts, etc instead of the big party if what you really want to do is meet people.

Connect Offline

Twitter is a great way to prepare for a show like BlogWorld as is leaving comments on blogs of the people whose work you appreciate or calling the comment line for podcasts you enjoy. Back in 2006 I met CC Chapman at his house but it was his house in SecondLife. At that time SecondLife was like a virtual podcaster meetup. An acquaintance or a friendship does not have to start in the real world. I went to a cousin’s wedding last week who met his bride online. If he can do it so can we.

Work in Progress

I am still shy. I have walked by Darren of ProBlogger and Chris Brogan, whose work I enjoy, and did not introduce myself because they looked busy. I still have not met Leo Laporte who got me into podcasting (even though we have been on a panel together after MacWorld in 2006) because there is always a crowd of people around him. Being “functionally shy” is a process and I am still improving. You can be “functionally shy” as well.

If you found this article useful retweet it with the #shy tag so I know who my people are. 🙂

by Chris Christensen

I am the creator of AmateurTraveler.com, a popular travel blog / podcast. I am also a co-host for This Week in Travel podcast, The Bible Study Podcast and the Passport Marketing and PR Podcast. I am the owner of BloggerBridge.com and a software consultant.



6 Responses to “A “Functionally Shy” Person’s Guide to Attending a Conference”

Dave

Says:

Appreciate your honesty Chris. Not sure if you talk about this a lot on this blog, but I’ve worked hard to overcome social anxiety (ie. shyness) since my mid-20’s so I can relate to what you wrote all too well. Thanks!

admin

Says:

I have not talked about this much on the blog. Many people who have met me recently don’t realize how hard this is or at least was for me. It gets easier over time.

JoAnna

Says:

I, too, am a bit on the introverted side and it can be tough to chat with people I don’t know. I agree … smaller meet ups tend to be easier for me to meet people as well. I’m glad I had a chance to chat with you Thursday night. Perhaps we’ll cross paths again someday!

Darren Cronian

Says:

Chris I can so relate to this. I am terrible at networking and making conversation with people I do not know. Once I get to know people though you cannot shut me up. That’s why at the end of last year I made the decision to “get out and about” and do more offline networking.

I organised the BlogCamp and got to meet loads of great people, a lot who I had met online though my community and social media network. It helped, but I still find it tough.

admin

Says:

I did introduce myself to Darren of ProBlogger today. Now tomorrow I will probably head to Death Valley to decompress from Vegas.

admin

Says:

It was good to have a chance to talk to you as well JoAnna.

Tags: , ,