Not everyone loves the hustle and bustle of conferences. If you are an introvert that's more comfortable in an edit suite than on the trade show floor, don't despair. I've found a way to go to these events, enjoy myself, and win.
You see, I fit the classic definition of an introvert. I enjoy spending time by myself. I like one-on-one conversations rather than group discussions. I need time alone to recharge my batteries and process the day's events. This generally isn't the perfect personality fit for an event with 88 thousand people.
But I've chosen a career path that isn't the easiest one for an introvert (no pain, no gain right?). As the founder of a startup, I have to get out and meet people, speak at events, make cold calls, and champion our service. I mean, if I don't spread the word about ScreenLight, then who will?
As a result, I've had to develop techniques to make the most of events like NAB. The core of this has been embracing who I am and playing to my strengths. There is no shame in being an introvert. In fact, there are several character traits that you can leverage at conferences and networking events. For example, introverts tend to be good listeners, they are generally empathetic, and they are good at deep one-on-one conversations.
Read on for ten tips on how to make the most of NAB.
1. Define Your Goals Before You Leave
Why are you going to NAB? What do you want to get out of it? How do you define success?
If you set your goals beforehand, then it makes it easier to prioritize what events you are going to go to before you get caught up in the hustle of meetings, pounding the trade show floor, and hitting the parade of events.
As long as you are meeting your own goals, then you don't have to stress out about not hitting every event in town. Relax. Breath. You don't have to shake hands with everybody at NAB.
2. Arrange Meetings Beforehand
Whether its meetings with partners, clients, or vendors, much of the action happens outside the trade show booths.
I've arranged a series of meetings with customers, advisors, potential partners, and people that I've been chatting with on different social networks. Before I touchdown, I can take comfort knowing that I have already made significant progress towards meeting my event goals.
If there are people you want to meet, get to work now. It will be much easier than hoping to bump into them on the trade show floor.
3. Use Your Social Networks To Break the Ice
Reach out to people in your network and people that you've been connecting with virtually to see if they will be at NAB. If so, see Tip 2 and arrange some meetings. Even if someone is outside your network, now is a good time to send off an introductory email to see if they are going to NAB and if they want to meet.
Reaching out to loose connections has three benefits. First, it gives you some easy wins and some momentum at the conference. Second, it helps you overcome the fear that you will walk up to a stranger at the event, extend your hand and be rejected (it rarely happens, but it's a common fear). Finally, you have the benefit of knowing something about the person you are talking to, so it can be easier to move beyond the kind of small talk that pains introverts.
4. Carve Out Some Alone Time
You need to recharge, so why fight it?
After a couple solid days of events, it's easy to get rundown. I tend to recharge best, when I do something that I love. So on Wednesday morning, I'm going to get up super early and head out into the desert. No I'm not going out there to down peyote and howl, I'm going to hit Red Rocks and do some mountain biking. After a couple of hours, my pale winter ravaged Canadian body will be ready to jump back into the thick of things.
You don't have to go to this self-indulgent extreme to get some alone time. Take a walk, enjoy a nice lunch away from the convention center, go for a swim, or do whatever else turns your crank.
Take comfort knowing that somewhere in Vegas, you can probably find the thing that recharges you.
5. Process Your Trip
While I don't blindly introduce myself to everyone I see at a conference, I still get a lot out of them. Why? Because I go to see speakers and I listen.
Getting out of my usual environment gives me the mental space to explore new ideas and make the connections that I wouldn't in the normal hustle and bustle of my life.
So go, sit down at the talks and let what you've seen and the conversations that you've had sink in. Is there a better way to run your business? Are you happy with what you are doing? How does what I've seen here connect to my daily life? How can I use what I've learned here to get ahead.
As you process, think about your initial goals. Have they changed? If so, time to adapt your game plan.
5. Fly Solo and Push Your Comfort Zone
I'm not saying you have to go to NAB by yourself. I'm saying that you should spend some time without the safety net of moving around with an entourage of people that are more extroverted than yourself.
I've gone to conferences with friends that have strong personalities. In these cases, it was easy to take the back seat and let them initiate conversations with others. Doing so was fun, easy, and at the time it even felt productive. However, afterwards, it felt a little hollow. I didn't make any of my own contacts or have any of my own conversations. There wasn't really much benefit from attending.
So get out there and do some things alone. The next tip should help with that.
6. Prepare Killer Conversation Topics
Small talk can be hard for an introvert. You want to jump into something more meaningful. There is also the fear that you won't have anything to say right after you walk up to someone and introduce yourself.
One thing that can help alleviate this fear is the knowledge that at an event like NAB, you probably have lots in common with the people around you. If someone is at NAB, they are probably passionate about film, TV, production, editing, etc.
So start the event by looking for things that really get you going (you thought about this with Tip 1 didn't you?). For me it's cloud editing and collaboration. When I arrive, I'll beeline for things that I want to see in that area. Then I'll take some time to collect out my thoughts on it.
This will arm me with some highlights that are easy to talk about. These highlights are easy conversation starters that go beyond what do you do, and where do you work. Now you can ask people what's the most interesting thing you've seen, and know that when the conversation turns back to you, you'll have a great answer.
While we're talking about small talk, remember to keep your questions open ended, so that responses require more than a simple yes or no.
7. Get Off The Strip
Conventions are pretty full-on. Especially one this size. So why assault your senses by walking through 2 miles of blinking and clanging slot machines just to get to your tiny room that's been designed to get you spending money.
My solution is to get a room off the strip in a non-gaming hotel. Besides allowing me to control my exposure to Vegas, these hotels are generally quieter, cheaper, and often don't have $20/day resort fees that are tacked on to your bill for amenities and Internet access. The hotel that I picked has an en-suite kitchen and free breakfast.
I find it relaxing to know that I don't have to search around just to get a bite for breakfast. If I want to hole up and eat cereal, I can do that rather than lining up at a buffet. Other benefits with off-strip hotels is that they offer more space to get work done.
The key here is to reduce exposure to the little things that sap your energy.
8. Focus on One-On-One Conversations
Introverts tend to enjoy one-on-one conversations rather than group conversations. Without being an expert in the topic being discussed, introverts find it difficult to jump in when a conversation is flying back and forth between a bunch of people.
Rather than fighting this, seek out one-on-one conversations where you can go deeper about topics at NAB. The topics from Tip 6 should prepare you for this. Remember that it's not the quantity of conversations, it's the quality.
9. Engage Meaningfully and With Purpose
When I don't want to attend an event, I can easily talk myself out of it. It's just going to be schmoozing, people talking over each other, etc.
Guess what? A networking event is what you make of it. When I go in with that attitude above, that's exactly what I see.
If I go in with the attitude that I'm there to have good conversations, share my knowledge of the industry, and help people out, then I tend to have meaningful interactions that extend beyond the event.
One thing that works well for me is offering to help others. I find that introverts have a high level of awareness of what's going on around them. Maybe it's the time spent recharging and processing, or maybe it's the time spent listening to others. Regardless, I find that I can use this to connect people with to other contacts, companies, ideas, articles, etc.
10. Put Your Smartphone Down
How many times have you been in an elevator where everyone is gazing intently at a smartphone? Are they really busy, or are they on Facebook?
Generally it's a crutch we use to avoid interaction. I do this when someone invades my personal space in an elevator.
So put your phone down and make yourself more approachable. Constantly gazing at your phone is the modern day equivalent of standing against the wall head down with your arms crossed.
Come See Us at NAB, We Are Happy to Talk
Want to talk at NAB? We don't have a booth, but we will be using the latest mobile booth technology (i.e. new shoes and a backpack filled with every iDevice we own) to get around the show.
- Send a message on Twitter - @screenlight
- Connect with me on Linkedin - ca.linkedin.com/in/pottercb
- Call me 1.800.940.6021
- Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Likely places to meetup are around the Post Pit or in the Cloud Computing Pavilion.