Attending conferences can be a great opportunity to learn a lot and meet people in your industry, but attending alone can be a frightening undertaking—especially if you’re an introvert like me.
Last year, I faced that fear when I attended Blogalicious, a conference created for women bloggers to share their experiences and network. I knew it would be difficult terrain for me, but I also knew that if I let myself be nervous and withdrawn the whole time, I’d just wade through the days without connecting with people or meeting anyone I wanted to.
So, I put on my big girl boots, mentally prepped myself, and got on with it. And I had a great time. If you’re like me, attending a conference for the first time, or attending a conference alone, let me share what I learned about not just surviving the experience, but making it an awesome one.
1. I'm Not Kidding About the Boots
When I say put on your big girl boots, I mean it. Ever notice that there’s something kind of incredible about a great pair of boots that makes you feel like you’re walking on top of the world? My point, though, is not that you have to run out and buy some new boots for the conference (though that would be quite fun!). The point is to bring at least one item of clothing (or, in my case, four pairs of boots) that makes you feel strong, confident, and self-assured.
Although it’s a seemingly little thing, dressing the part can help you start with your best foot forward. No pun intended.
2. Have a Home Base
Most conferences go from morning until late at night, for at least a couple of days, so you’ll want time to get away from everything. For a lot of the girls at Blogalicious, that was simply their hotel rooms. For me, it was my car. A quiet couch in the hotel that nobody else has found can work, too.
Whatever and wherever it is, find somewhere you can go to freshen up, eat a quick snack, and relax for a bit—and get back to the conference feeling refreshed.
3. Speak to the Speakers
Even if it’s intimidating, gather up the courage to talk to the speakers that made an impact on you. Trust me, they’re just people, and they’re there because they want to talk with attendees. Besides, it will probably be a very rewarding experience. At Blogalicious, I’m so glad that I went up to interior designer Erika Ward and spoke with her. Yes, she’s insanely popular, but she was also very friendly. And she’s been where I want to go, so she was able to offer me valuable advice that I would never have received had I quickly shuffled out of the room.
4. Talk to the People Around You
You never know who might be sitting next to you. This isn’t to say that everyone you talk to is successful and has something to offer you—in my case, most of the girls at the conference were bloggers just like me. Nonetheless, there were plenty of professionals attending as well. And by talking to them, I not only made valuable contacts, but also many friends. And you can’t do that until you get over being too afraid to talk to people.
So again, pull up those boots and say hello. Introduce yourself, ask questions, and show that you’re actually interested in their answers. Move beyond small talk, and hopefully, the conversation will be natural and bonding.
5. If You’re Uncomfortable, it’s OK to Leave
One of the best decisions I made while I was at the conference was to leave a few of the events. I mainly skipped out on some of the purely social evening events—I knew that if I were to stay out all night every night, I wouldn’t have enough energy the next day, during sessions when I really needed it.
So, know your limits. It’s OK to skip an hour of sessions. If that’s what you need to get yourself together before the evening events, then that break is time well-spent. Take a walk by yourself, read a book for a half hour, or talk on the phone with a friend. The world will not pass you by. (Just make sure that you’re not doing any of those things when the HDTV is being given away at the Sears Suite—then you'll be kicking yourself!)
Attending a conference alone can be scary, but it doesn't have to be a negative experience. Just be prepared, and you’ll make it a great one. Now, lace up those boots and go have fun!
Photo courtesy of Sebastiaan ter Burg.