How to Be Good at Conferences as an Introvert

prepping for a conference

I don’t usually count conference attendance among the things we typically make a point of preparing for ahead of time. We prepare for our exams, speaking engagements, and even tough conversations…but not conferences. A conference is a thing you register for, and later, show up for.

But you can totally prepare for a conference! Especially if, like me, you’re an introvert who experiences anxiety around large gatherings and social events. Whether you’re nervous about the professional image you project, getting the most out of the event and its networking opportunities, or just want to avoid feeling lost in a crowd and unsure of what to do with yourself, conference prep is a real thing and you’re not weird for taking the time you need to get ready.

Here are some introvert-friendly ways to help you get the most out of your next conference:

Before the Conference

Ask yourself, what are your goals going into the conference? Do you want to share your expertise and trade insights with your peers? Do you want to emerge with at least one good job lead? Have a conversation with at least 3 people whose careers you admire? Promote your business? Develop a connection with at least one person you find interesting? Know exactly what you want to get out of the event and what your expectations are so you can go in with a plan.

Similarly, think about what you plan to do with your experience at the conference. What are your takeaways? Do you want to create any deliverables, like a blog post summing up your experience, or a brief presentation to your boss to report on why it was valuable so she’ll send you again next year? If you have a clear idea of what you’d like to achieve after the conference, you’ll have a better sense of purpose at the event.

As best you can, find out who’s going to be there and who you’re most interested to meet. If social media information is provided in the conference materials, consider reaching out to any interesting attendees or speakers on LinkedIn or Twitter. If you can establish a connection with a few people ahead of time, you’ll thank yourself later when you’re standing in a sea of people and able to identify a few friendly faces. It’s much easier to begin a conversation when you can say, “Oh, I think we’re already following each other on Twitter. Your tweet about sloths was hilarious!”

During the Conference

Have a brief version of your story ready. If, like me, you get anxious talking about yourself, it helps to have something prepared. Sort of like your elevator pitch, except you’re not pitching yourself. Rather, you’re telling your story. Whenever someone asks you, “So what do you do?” Or “What brings you to the conference?”, this is where your story comes in. As an example, here’s a story script I used recently at a conference:

I’m a writer, and I handle content creation and strategy on the Education team at ActiveCampaign, a tech startup in Chicago. I’m pretty happy with my career right now, and aside from making more money, I’m not sure what I want to pursue next! I came to the conference to get some new ideas and perspective, and to see if I can get closer to identifying a 5 year plan that works for me.

Find other ways to contribute. I’m always impressed by my more extroverted peers who never fail to ask a lot of smart questions during Q & A sessions and offer insightful opinions in discussions. Out of a strong desire to be seen as a contributor, I’ve definitely pressured myself to keep up with them in the past. Problem is, off the cuff discussion just doesn’t work for me. I usually need more time to process my thoughts on a topic before I feel ready to converse about it. Fortunately, there are other ways to make your mark! Maybe you’re not the loudest person in the room because you’re focused instead on taking beautiful, meticulous notes to share with other conference attendees. Or perhaps your strong suit is photography or social media, and you’d prefer to offer your thoughts and photos online to start a discussion there. Or maybe you’re really good at finding the best places to eat wherever you go, and lead everyone to an amazing dinner every night.

Know what you’d like to talk to people about. What kind of conversations do you want to have? Maybe you’re dealing with a particular problem in your life or career and would be interested in hearing others’ advice. Or maybe you just love talking about productivity hacks, or coding, or all the cats you’re following on Instagram. Whatever your preferred topics, have them handy in your mind. Then, actually let people know what you’re interested in talking about. To a group you can say something like, “I just went through a big career transition, so I’m full of advice on that topic if anyone would like to talk.”

Focus on having more one-on-one conversations. I’ve found that holding a conversation with one person at a time is far more rewarding than trying to keep up with the large group discussion that’s really being run by one or two or three people at most. One-on-one, it’s easier to ask questions and have a conversation that is both coherent and meaningful. I find this to be a better way to build solid and lasting connections with the people I meet at conferences.

Keep Experimenting

To summarize, it’s a trial and error process. Try a few different approaches and see what works best for you.

It’s dumb to expect we should all just show up and automatically be good at conferencing. Some of us are in fact very good at it, but those of us who are not shouldn’t feel weird about taking time in advance to set ourselves up for success.

 

On Privacy and Sharing

In a recent newsletter, Alexandra Franzen included a list of writing prompts, one of which went like this:

“What are the parts [of your life] that nobody sees?”

This question has been on my mind quite often lately. Could I actually find good writing material in the banalities of my everyday life? In the things I don’t feel compelled to photograph for Instagram? In the ugly truths, and the private fears and insecurities I carry with me every day?

I like the idea that my best, most meaningful writing could be right under my nose, trapped within the parts of my life I dismiss as insignificant, unglamorous, messy, the parts I don’t share.

Why don’t I share?

I have never identified as “a sharer.” It does not come naturally to me to share my hopes and dreams, details about my weekend, stories about the people I meet, things that happened to me while I was on vacation, thoughts I had in the shower, etc. It rarely occurs to me to text a friend unless it’s about making plans to meet in person; I don’t leave creative handwritten notes for people in my life because I never think to leave them, though I idealize a relationship comprised of secret messages left behind for a person to find.

Sometimes I am hyperaware of my non-sharing tendencies and take steps to “work on it.” I want to be more of a sharer because the people who I see doing this well always seem interesting, better able to command a room and influence a crowd; and they always seem to have an easier time of meeting new people, connecting with acquaintances and advancing casual friendships to a more intimate, meaningful plane.

But I also prize my identity as a private person. I don’t share freely because there are always the emotions and thoughts I don’t want to admit to having, the parts of my life I don’t find interesting and can’t imagine anyone else would, and the topics I’m not comfortable talking about or on which I struggle to express myself accurately.

I require time to process my thoughts; I don’t like having to speak before I finish parsing through them and before I feel prepared to express my perspective eloquently and with intelligence.

Sometimes, I experience anxiety around the act of conversing. Conversations are scary. You can’t plan them, and sometimes you can’t even know what the topic of conversation will be until you’re already in the conversation.

And, there are the parts of my life that are simply mine, that most people have no claim to, and if I accidentally give something private away in the moment then I have violated my own right not to disclose what I previously chose not to disclose for reasons that I defined for myself, privately, earlier.

Writing grants me the control not to do this.

Perhaps this is why I’ve always been drawn to writing. It can be a way to share more, at the pace that is agreeable to me, with the control I crave.

So maybe if I share more through the craft of writing, someone will see herself reflected back at her in my writing. Maybe she’ll feel so connected to me that she’ll reach out to tell me, and then I’ll feel that connection too. I’ll make more connections with more people that I wouldn’t experience otherwise because my sometimes weird and awkward presence in person tends to deflect such opportunities for connection.

Maybe I’ll have some material to turn into a book of confessional personal essays that someone will call self-indulgent and silly. That would be an OK thing.

 

My 2017 Values

For the third year in a row, I’m completing the Design Your 20XX workbook, a tool developed by GetBullish creator Jen Dziura for those of us who find extreme joy in advance planning. The Design Your 2017 workbook contains some updates from previous versions which I found to be thoughtful improvements as well as good fun (we should all have To-Don’t lists!), but one of my favorite prompts, which I’ve come to rely on as a measure of my year-to-year progress, remains a cornerstone of the workbook: Define your values.

In a greater effort this year to establish accountability, I decided to share some of the work I did. Below is a list of values I identified for myself in 2017, ranked in (general) order of importance. I find it beneficial to rank my values because it forces me to examine which ones I prioritize over others and why. In the process of ranking I also ended up removing some of the values I had originally listed because A), I found they fit into other, more specific values I already had on the list, or B), they turned out not to be actual values.

The result is an honest hierarchy of values:

[1] Finding my voice and using it.

[2] Getting paid to improve my skill as a writer.

[3] Respect + acclaim as a writer and communications professional.

[4] Healthy habits + self-care.

[5] Nurturing meaningful, supportive relationships with friends and family.

[6] Maintaining cool, collected, highly competent confidence in professional or stressful settings.

[7] Making more money.

[8] Keeping a clean, well-organized, elegant apartment.

[9] Dressing like a sophisticated, bad-ass woman of the world.

[10] Doing my best to make the world a better place through proactive kindness, awareness + action. Also, feminism.

[11] Saving money.

[12] Expanding my network of interesting, like-minded friends + peers.

[13] Meeting more of the people I admire/potential mentors.

[14] Community building for introverts.

[15] Developing a fit, controlled mind.

[16] Accomplishing more in one week than the average person.

[17] Whiskey.

[18] Voracious reading.

[19] Trying new things that take me out of my comfort zone.

[20] Travel.

[21] Good food, coffee + alcohol.

[22] Running longer distances.

[23] Being exceptional, weird an unlike anyone else.

[24] Improving my French language skills.

[25] Making an entrance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Don’t Need Permission

Don't Need Permission

Some things you don’t need permission to do, but here it is anyway:

It’s OK to date people who ultimately aren’t right for you, as long as you’re having fun. (If it feels like a burden, shut. it. down.)

On that note, it’s OK to change your mind, even after it seems the opportunity has passed. It is never too late to change your mind.

It’s OK to want to be in a relationship.

It’s OK to not want to be in a relationship.

It’s OK to not know what you want.

It’s OK to be driven by making more money.

It’s OK to not travel abroad alone.

It’s OK to take your time.

It’s OK to be alone.

It’s OK to fail repeatedly. Keep trying, keep experimenting.

It’s OK to not be the best. Keep practicing. Stay curious and in awe.

It’s OK to disagree with others. Stand up for your opinions.

It’s OK for others to disagree with you. Keep an open dialogue.

It’s OK to be wrong. There’s dignity in acknowledging your mistakes and gracefully correcting them.

It’s OK to be vulnerable.

It’s OK to choose safety over risk.

It’s OK to not be enough for someone. You don’t have to be anything for anyone.

It’s OK to not be objectively successful.

It’s OK to not always be the perfect model of a good feminist.

It’s OK to relax with an alcoholic beverage most nights in a week.

It’s OK to put getting enough sleep before ambition. It’s extremely OK to spend less than 50, even 40 hours a week working.

It’s OK to be too tired to be around other people. Your friends and family will love you at your worst, but deserve to have you at your best.

It’s OK to opt out of drinks at the new cocktail bar your friends are going to because you’re saving up for a trip abroad, or to buy a condo, or because it feels fucking good to have $15,000 that you didn’t spend on cocktails and duck fat fries sitting in an untouched bank account somewhere.

It’s OK to not know what to say all the time.

It’s OK to not know what to do all the time. And it’s OK to do something that turns out to be a mistake. It’s OK to fuck-up with the best intentions.

It’s OK to need things from people, and it’s OK to ask for those things.

It’s OK if you have to ask for something more than once.  It’s OK to repeat your ask until you no longer need to.

Published on TheMuse: 5 Strategies Introverts Can Use to Boost Their Energy Levels When They Need it Most

Do you ever feel sapped of the energy you need to get through an important meeting at work? Or wish you could postpone that networking event because you need a chance to gather your strength and wit at home?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone in feeling like this!

As an introvert in the communications field, I enjoy speaking in front of an audience and forging new relationships just as much as my more extroverted peers. But I’m often in awe of people who go from multiple meetings during the workday to an after-hours networking event with the same lively charm and gusto they had at the beginning of the day. The energy I have for such activities is limited—and I usually need a good break to recharge between engagements.

Continue reading.

How to Stick to Your Writing Plan Under Any Circumstance

coffee and writing

I am writing from my favorite neighborhood coffee shop. When I arrived there was one open workspace left—the lopsided table next to the window, where it’s too hot to savor a cup of coffee (iced coffee is not my thing). I was hoping to grab a seat at the bar, where it’s cooler and easier to concentrate with an elevated view of others in the shop hard at work coding and penning poetry.

Sitting next to the window, the sun washed out my lap-top screen, so I pulled out my notebook and put pen to paper. I will not be deterred.

I don’t know about you, but I get discouraged when I run into even the slightest hint of adversity, and am much more likely to veer off course, away from my original intention, when conditions aren’t just right.

It’s a bad habit that affects my life in big and small ways. I’m trying to change it.

For me, the first step is reminding myself of what my priorities are. I came to this coffee shop to write a blog post. I did not come to be comfortable, to get the perfect spot, or for the coffee (well, not entirely).

The second step is giving myself permission to take as much time as I need. Sometimes the thing that is making it difficult to do the thing I set out to do is overwhelming. It requires a not-easy-to-come-by solution that I need IMMEDIATELY so I can move on to the Very Important Task at Hand. So, I just can’t even.

But if I have no competing obligations—if there are no external commitments for which I need to wrap up, pick up and go by a certain time, then there’s no reason why I can’t take as long as I need to to find a solution that allows me to move on to the real work.

The third step is getting a little egotistical. Or perhaps more appropriately, asking what type of person I want to be. Do I want to be a person who doesn’t get anything done because life is challenging and full of less than ideal circumstances? Do I want to be the type of person who keeps laziness, fear and lack of conviction as life partners?

Frankly, the idea of that type of person disgusts me.

I want to be seen as someone with ambition, vision and a record of success—someone who has her shit together. In order to achieve that, I can’t forsake productivity because of imperfect conditions. If I let every little thing get in the way of my work, I can’t applaud myself for having great conviction, or much passion for my projects.

In the time since I started writing this, I forgot the uneven surface of my table, and how hot it feels next to the window with the July afternoon sun pouring onto my workspace. I actually ran out of pen ink, so I switched back to writing on my lap-top. But I have a finished blog post.

Takeaways from the Balanced Team Chicago Salon

When I was invited to attend the Balanced Team Chicago Salon, I was excited for the opportunity to bring my PR and communications perspective to a networking event I knew would be full of developers and designers. At the intimate un-conference held in Pivotal Labs’ Chicago office last month we discussed collaboration and workshopped creating, leading and working as part of a balanced team. By definition the event was open to all professional disciplines and areas of expertise.

Rounding up even a small group of people from different professional backgrounds and disciplines to participate in a workshop seems like a difficult task. Whether people aren’t interested in learning about the work that others do, they’re not convinced they’ll get anything out of an event that’s not part of their professional niche or they fear not fitting in, I don’t know. So I appreciate when an event successfully makes all feel welcome, even and especially when that event is attended primarily by people in a certain industry or field, as the Balanced Team salon was.

And I am all the more appreciative when that event also turns out to hold value for all participants. The Balanced Team Chicago Salon certainly did for me. It was worth it to meet new people doing things with technology I hardly understood. There was meaningful conversation around what all of us do and how we can effectively collaborate together on a team.

Here are a few thoughts I came away with:

  • A truly successful collaboration between professional disciplines, unique skill-sets and areas of expertise is going to take us out of our comfort zones. It’s important that a safe space is created for asking intelligent and dumb questions alike. If we don’t develop working relationships that allow us to ask the questions that feel foolish, we can’t come to understand everyone’s role on the team or how we can all help each other.
  • A good collaborator makes an effort to understand how her colleagues and clients think. I think this is key for professional communicators. When we’re in tune with how stakeholders in our work think, we can tailor how we communicate, or the message itself, for those different thought processes, and thereby improve productivity on our team.
  • Collaboration is a skill that must be practiced. A collaboration-focused work philosophy involves actively seeking out projects that get us working with a variety of disciplines and work styles.
  • We should aim to develop a balanced professional network. A friend of mine who was also present at the workshop pointed out during the discussion that we should seek happiness in our professional lives the way we do in our social lives. Many of us have developed a network of select friends who fulfill our various social needs. Likewise, we should think of our professional network in terms of our professional needs—who belongs in your network to meet those needs? What kind of contacts can contribute to your overall professional satisfaction and success? Probably a group of people with an array of knowledge and skill-sets. Seek them out to develop a balanced professional network.

 

Balanced Team at Pivotal Labs Chicago
Discussing public relations with a dynamic group of designers, developers and artists. Photo: Tim McCoy

 

Published on DailyWorth: Why I’m Done Being a ‘Nice Girl’

I do not plan to be a nice person this year.

I’ve made a lot of friends by being friendly and uncontroversial toward everyone I meet — in short, by being nice. For a while, this worked well enough. I do not like conflict, and getting along with everyone made it easy to avoid.

But it also made it hard to negotiate a good salary. I once stayed at a job where I was miserable and underpaid because my college career center taught us that it’s unprofessional to leave too quickly. (Looking back, I suspect this was to deter students from accepting internships only to quit for more lucrative opportunities a week later.)

As I got further along in my career, I asked myself why it was so important to please everyone — and I realized that it wasn’t.

Continue reading.

Published on DailyWorth: How I Built A Business After Being Laid Off

In January 2014, I was laid off. It had been my first salaried position with benefits, and it lasted only six months.

Before that was a string of unpaid internships and part-time work that allowed me to get some experience on my resume without the financial independence I craved. The salaried position had started to change all that: I moved into a new apartment and was on my way to having a responsible amount of money in my savings account. Then it ended — abruptly.

My plan had always been to start a writing business after a few years of saving. But faced with the awful void of unemployment, I thought it might be prudent to start building my business ASAP. The endeavor would keep me productive, add new skills to my portfolio, and save me from having to explain a gap on my resume while I hunted for new employment.

Continue reading.

Design A Productive, Meaningful Work Week: 8 Tips

Planning The Week

How do you structure your week to get the most out of it?

What does time spent meaningfully mean to you, and how do you guarantee an entire week full of meaningful work and leisure?

These questions have been on my mind a lot lately. In balancing blogging projects with a contract position that currently has me in an office three days out of the week, I have to stick to the work schedule I set for myself, otherwise projects fall through the cracks. For me, a week full of meaningful work and leisure entails producing my best work and meeting all of my professional goals and deadlines, then maintaining a social life, getting out for a run at least three days a week and making semi-regular trips to the yoga studio. All this is non-negotiable, which is why I’ve been especially interested in figuring out how I can continue to operate at this capacity without burning out.

So I began to experiment. And while I’m still learning as I go along, I can share what I know works:

1. Wake up earlier than necessary. If you’re anything like me, your morning sets the tone for the rest of your day. If I sleep in and wake up to a sense of urgency and disorganization, I carry that chaos with me all day. But if my morning is leisurely and productive, I’m unstoppable for the next 15 hours. I find it much easier to kick ass in numerous, impressive ways on days when I give myself enough time to 1) take pleasure in my morning and 2) knock something off my to-do list before 6:30 a.m.

If you’re wondering what exactly one does with mornings if not sleep in until the last possible second, I recommend any of the following:

  • Get a quick work-out in. Half an hour is all you need to go for a run, lift weights, practice yoga, or see how many push ups you can do.
  • Make an awesome breakfast. Even if all you can stomach at this hour is a cup of tea, sit down somewhere with it, slow down and savor.
  • Plan your day: What business-related items are you going to accomplish today? What will you achieve in your personal life? How will you make the day meaningful?
  • Write a to-do list and cross one item off of it in the early a.m.–before whatever hour you typically start making things happen.
  • Gather inspiration: read, journal, check the news. Whatever gets you excited to start the day and tasks at hand.

2. Get enough sleep. I find this one the most challenging because it almost always involves sacrifice. It is the choice between staying out late with friends and waking up at 5 a.m. to run. While it’s tempting to prioritize both over sleep for one night, I’ve made this mistake enough times to know I’ll start falling behind on work the next day and may not catch up for days. It’s the threat of this pattern that gets me in bed with a book and a cup of tea at a reasonable hour, even when I feel capable of working well into the night.

3. Make time to work-out. I know I could work through a work-out or a yoga class I had planned for my day, but I rarely do unless I’m incredibly pressed for time. When I take time away from business and personal commitments to focus on my body and release built up tension I feel more energized, more motivated, and more capable. It is the next best thing to sleeping–sometimes even better than sleep–when I feel like I need to re-charge.

4. Set deadlines. Before I’d worked with any editors or found my first client, I was accountable to no one but myself for producing my work, which made it really difficult to get things done in a timely manner. Now, whenever I have a task that needs doing and affects no one but myself, I set a due date and put it in my calendar.

5. Go off the map. Unless the task at hand is marketing, I’ve started to make myself completely unreachable while I’m working: I turn my phone notifications off, log out of Facebook, Twitter and Gmail, and head somewhere I can’t even access the internet if I’m writing and know it won’t be necessary. Eliminating distraction is crucial with all the miscellaneous bits of life crowding around and threatening to spill into prime work hours. Yes, I would like to tweet a link to that article and then maybe do a load of laundry, but first I am going to work without distraction for a few hours.

6. Write out daily to-do lists. My relationship with lists goes far beyond grocery shopping; I think, dream and imagine by lists. I also work by them. If I’m seriously concerned about the likelihood of accomplishing a set of tasks in a day, I write them down in my little blue notebook and cross them off as I go. The commitment of pen on paper is like a sacred pact that I wouldn’t dare break.

7. Plan the next day ahead of time. Planning leads to getting more done. If I think about what I want to accomplish before jumping to action, I can structure my day so it’s easier to transition from one priority to the next. One of my favorite things to do is work in a bar or coffee shop and invite friends to join me for a drink after I’ve finished my projects for the day. Or, a friend will join me for work and together we’ll do instant happy hour.

8. Organize the day around peek times of productivity.  I work best in the morning, and I know that if I put off writing until the afternoon it’s probably never going to happen. So mornings are for work. The dishes in the sink, the run to the dry cleaners, the sending of the weekend brunch plans email–all of that must wait until I’ve used up my prime concentration hours. I don’t need to be brilliant and focused to take the trash out.

What does a productive and meaningful work week look like for you, and how do you make it happen?