Meeting people at conferences

I’m normally a very extroverted person, but meeting people at conferences is awkward and difficult.  Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed at the idea of people not liking me.  Other times, I feel like I’ll meet someone and not meet their technical standards or get myself into a conversation where I’m in over my head.  In the most recent conference, I met people in a couple different ways:

1. I wore nerdy accessories.  The first day, I wore my circuit board earrings which sparked conversation amongst all genders — some people wanted earrings like that and others wanted to make them.  The second day, I wore Tardis earrings and an 8-bit barrette.  I have a Tardis dress that I didn’t wear this time, but it accomplishes the same purpose of getting people to recognize that we have the same interests.  My 8-bit barrette was a big conversation starter as well, and I ended up inviting people over to my house to make similar barrettes.  Overall, wearing these items showed off my personality while inviting people to talk to me in innocuous ways.

2. I went up to people sitting alone or standing by themselves looking around.  I tried not to mess up anyone’s introvert time.  I also didn’t always ask them questions about the conference — people non-stop talk about it, and I’m kinda weird in that I mostly want to talk to people on a personal level about their life.  I think it lowers the pressure on the other person as well as myself in that I didn’t feel like we had to compare technical chops or whatever.  Because I knew personal things about people, it was easier for me to put a name to a face and remember them in the future.  I end up following people on Twitter and then strengthening my relationship with them after the conference.

3. I messaged people directly on Twitter or Slack.  I’ve tried blasting out an invite to the entire conference to have lunch or whatever and getting… nothing.  Instead, I tried to be more focused by taking a chance and inviting specific people even if I’ve never met them before.  I go back and forth between inviting ten and inviting just one, but both of the options seem to work well.  Inviting more people tends to be less risky but more of a logistical challenge.  Inviting one person is way more risky because they can just blow you off or not check their messages on time.  There’s probably a sweet spot, but it’s been working for me so far.

I also don’t bring a laptop or a backpack or whatever.  When I did that at previous conferences, it was much easier to hide and be on Twitter and just watch people interact instead of taking part in it myself.  I also tend to talk to people volunteering at the conference — somebody asked me why the other day because “volunteers didn’t have any jobs to give.”  I think it made me realize that I didn’t want a job or a whatever from anyone, I just like meeting people with similar interests to me.  When I took away that pressure to impress new people I meet, it made it a lot easier to meet people and be less shy.  I have another conference in October, so hopefully all of these ways will work for me then!

2 thoughts on “Meeting people at conferences

  1. Interesting. The fact that I’ll be looking for work in 2 months made me *more* willing to talk to people and network at the conferences I’ve attended recently. But I’m normally introverted.

    I’m working on a conference talk about how to network at a conference, especially for introverts.

  2. I’m normally more introverted, but I tend to be more outgoing at conferences. Some of the tricks I use:

    * Friends I’ve met through work or other conferences will introduce me to their acquaintances. I invite them to do this by introducing them to others who I think might share their interests.

    * I wear the T-shirt of an open source project that I’ve been part of. It has a similar conversation starter effect to what you mentioned getting from nerdy accessories, and works for those of us who don’t wear big earrings or barettes 🙂

    * Having a distinctive hair color or funny hat throughout the conference helps people I met on an earlier day recognize me later. I’m personally terrible at remembering faces, and something else unique about a person’s appearance makes me more confident that I’m not mistaking a new acquaintance for someone else

    * Using a notes app in my phone, I keep track of the promises I make during conversations at a conference. It’s super easy to say “I’ll send you that link!” and then forget, and nobody really holds it against you, but remembering to actually send them that link the next week can spark an interesting conversation.

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