Conventions and conferences are, by their nature, social spaces. They are put on to help facilitate connections, networking, learning and inspiration. If you are a social creature by nature, conventions and conferences are almost vacation-like. You spend your days hanging out, making new friends, learning interesting stuff and go home refreshed and inspired. However, if you’re not very social or are new to the networking process, conventions and conferences can be very difficult. You might leave feeling let down or even fully depressed because you didn’t seem to get as much out of the experience as everybody else.
Here are some of the things you introverts and networking newbies can do to make events like conventions and conferences more fun (and more worth the massive amounts of money you spend attending them).
Go With a Buddy
Going to a convention all alone is a daunting thing. It’s like being the new kid in class only the class is made up of thousands of people–all of whom seem to already know each other. Taking a friend or a colleague with you is a great way to help make the space seem less intimidating because you’ll know that you will have at least one person to talk to and one familiar face to seek out in crowded situations.
If you really want to make the most out of the conference, take a buddy who is more of an extrovert or social person. This way, they can be the one to chat up new people and then introduce them to you if you are feeling shy or awkward.
By this, we’re talking about social media. A lot of conferences and conventions have forums on their websites. Some will even set up Facebook groups, dedicated event hash tags, etc. Use these web-based social spaces to get to know the people who are going to be at the event and maybe even make a connection or two before it starts. It’s easier to join a conversation that is happening in a public sphere online than it is in the corner of a conference hall.
This applies to the conference’s app, too. More and more conventions and conferences are choosing to manage their attendance and agendas by using a mobile event app. These apps contain the event schedule, lists of speakers, and even ways for attendees to touch base with each other and the event organizers. It’s a great way to connect with people before approaching them in person.
Set Reasonable Goals
If you go into the event thinking “I am going to network with at least twenty people before the weekend is over,” you’re just going to stress yourself out. Instead, set goals like “I will say hello to one person I don’t already know in each panel I attend.” Or “I will give my business card to at least one panel speaker before the weekend is over.” Setting small goals to meet throughout the event feels easier to manage than one large comprehensive goal. These small goals are also harder to procrastinate. And, as you complete one you build momentum for another.
Say Hello to Merchants
Almost every convention or conference has some space set aside for vendors to sell and promote their businesses. Take a stroll through this area at least once each day you are at the event. Make a point of talking to at least one vendor during each pass. You’ll learn about new products and services and maybe even make a new connection or two.
If you are very stressed out by the idea of approaching a lot of people, you should consider buying table or vendor space at the event. This will give you a space that is just your own and you can wait for people to come to you. There are lots of ways to turn a convention booth into a profitable enterprise for yourself and your company.
You can learn a lot by standing on the sidelines of a convention, sure. But you’ll get so much more out of the experience–personally and professionally–if you find a way to connect with your fellow event attendees. Use these tips to help you do exactly that!