The Introvert’s Guide to Conference Networking by
The Introvert’s Guide to Conference Networking
by Lisa Barone, August 15, 2008
Conference networking is one of the most compelling reasons for
professionals to attend events in their niche. However, for introverts,
the only difference between conferences and your horrifying experience
as a 13-year-old in P.E. is that you wasted a considerable amount of
money to feel tortured and uncomfortable.
shell out $1,500 to attend your industry’s premier conference, go
through the hassle of coordinating time off work and accept that you
will be paying out the nose in travel, eating and lodging expenses.
Then, when you get there, you don’t speak to anyone in the sessions and
spend the afterhours hidden away in your hotel room flipping through the
same nine television channels. For three days, you avoid the Birds of a
Feather lunches, hold up the walls during social functions and
effectively meet no one.
Allowing yourself to fall into the Introvert Trap during conference
time will hurt not only your personal brand, but the brand of your
company as well. It’s time to take back control. When it’s conference
time, introverts must put on their game faces and learn the tricks to
making connections with ease.
Trick 1 – Show up Prepared: One of the most
effective ways to calm pre-show jitters is to show up prepared. You’ll
only have a few days to meet everyone you want to meet and attend all
the events you want to attend. Optimize your schedule by taking a look
at the conference agenda a few days prior to the show and marking down
everything you want to hit. Take care to check who’s speaking on which
sessions and which will be crawling with major industry reps. Once
you’re armed with all of this, create a list of everything you want to
do and everyone you want to meet while you’re in town. This will help
keep you on track in the midst of all the craziness and serve as
motivation to get everything on your list covered. It may sound a bit
corny, but keeping a conference score card will go a long way in making
sure you leave that conference feeling like you’ve accomplished
If there are certain people you want to meet, don’t just stalk their
schedules; research them so you have something to bring to the table.
If you want to meet Michael Gray
of Wolf-Howl.com, know that the button to push is Google’s
over-dominance on the Web. If you want to meet Bruce Clay, know that
he’s passionate about white hat and ethical search engine optimization.
Striking up a conversation is often as easy as knowing what to talk
Trick 2 – Start Branding Yourself Before You Get There:
It’s a lot easier to introduce yourself face-to-face when you have an
Internet brand to lean on. A few weeks before the show start reaching
out on the social networks and let people know you’ll be there. Twitter
it. Plurk it. Join that conference’s Event page on Facebook. If there is
no official Event page on Facebook, create one. Make plans to meet up
with people before you’re even in town. Start researching who the best
connections in your industry are. Who will be able to help you promote
your company and your goals the most? These are the folks you’ll want to
score face time with.
Use this time to start talking publicly about the projects you’re
working on and get some buzz going. If you’re about to release a new
blogging widget, plan the release date around the conference. Land in
town with something to say.
Trick 3 — Attach Yourself to an Extrovert: As
crazy as it may seem to introverts like us, there are actually people
who enjoy being the center of attention. Armed with this knowledge,
I’ve found that one of the best ways to network and work a room is to
attach yourself to an extrovert. Extroverts love meeting new people and
will jump at the chance to walk you around and introduce you to everyone
they know. It’s perfect for introverts because they get to meet
everyone in the room without ever having to do the actual introduction.
And if you’ve already branded yourself beforehand, folks will be excited
to meet you and immediately bring you into conversation.
I’ll share a secret with you – I applied the extrovert technique back
in 2006 at Search Engine Strategies Chicago. It was one of my first
conferences and my first attempt at networking in the search engine
optimization industry. One of the first people I met was extrovert Todd Malicoat.
Knowing that I’m quite shy in person, I quickly attached myself to him
and asked him to introduce me to people. He graciously obliged and that
night introduced me to everyone in the room. I was able to ride his
coattails all night and share smiles with everyone I had read and heard
about online but didn’t have the courage to approach myself. It was a
Beware when using the buddy system, though. Sticking with an
extrovert is different than simply huddling in a corner with another
nervous soul. Unless you have been surgically attached to the friend
that dared come with you, you do not have to stand by their side the
entire night. In fact, you shouldn’t. Doing so is a great way to ensure
that you only speak to one another or those you both know, without ever
meeting anyone new. As comforting and warm and fuzzy as it feels, you
want to avoid this at all costs.
Trick 4 — Have A Gimmick: There’s a reason the search engine optimization community has seen hat bait, drink bait, a klog and yellow shoes Rand Fishkin
paraded around the conference grounds. Having a gimmick makes it easier
for you to approach people and harder for them to ignore you.
Think about it: If you were attending a networking event and a
smiling face approached you and asked you to pose for a photo holding a
potato, you’d do it, right? Of course, you would. Why? Because it takes
more effort to decline the offer than to say yes and grab that potato.
And once you agree, you’ve opened up the door for that person to hold a
conversation with you and explain what they’re doing. It also ensures
that you’ll remember their name and face the next day when you spot them
walking around the conference hall. That’s the power of having a
Be careful when applying the gimmick technique. Everyone has
different tolerance levels and there’s a fine line between being funny
and being annoying. Opt for something quirky and unobtrusive like a
T-shirt with a provocative saying or something that promotes a cause
that benefits someone other than yourself.
Trick 5 — Don’t Use a Gimmick: As effective as the
gimmicks above can be, people grow tired of them and see them as fake.
Often your best bet is to be genuine and yourself. Be confident knowing
that you don’t need to force people into silly hats to get them to pay
attention to you. Sometimes a firm hand shake and a warm smile over
introductions is all you need to forge a real connection with someone.
From there it’s all about good social graces and lots of friendly
The worst thing you can do is leave a conference with regret, kicking yourself for missing out on a chance to chat with Matt Cutts or Kevin Ryan
one on one. Meeting people and sharing work and life war stories is too
valuable to pass up simply because you’re an introvert. When you meet
someone at a conference, you’ve met them because you both have similar
interests and are involved in the same industry. Use that as your common
ground to spark up a conversation. When it comes to conference
networking, there’s no room for shyness. Be confident and break out.
Your personal brand will thank you.
[Next week is the big Search Engine Strategies
show in San Jose. If you’re getting ready to attend, keep an eye out
for members of the Bruce Clay team. We’d be proud to be your extrovert!]
For permission to reprint or reuse any materials, please contact us. To learn more about our authors, please visit the Bruce Clay Authors page. Copyright 2008 Bruce Clay, Inc.