So many writers are introverts. You’d think that a roomful of writers at conferences would devolve into mass silence, a staring contest several hundred people strong. But that’s not what happens. I spent this past weekend at the Muse and the Marketplace conference, and at breakfast tables, cocktail hours, and in the hallways between sessions, there was a positively overwhelming sound of chattering voices.
Many of us (myself included) are everyday introverts who manage to become extroverts just at writing conferences. And that’s a good thing. Conferences are a great way to learn things and meet other writers, and if you leave without speaking to anyone, you’ve definitely missed out. So if you’re an introvert who wants to attend writing conferences but fears you won’t be able to break through your shyness, you probably will. Here’s how:
- Opening lines. When I’m in a roomful of people I don’t know, I find it very hard to approach people. I’m afraid that I’ll be intruding, even if the person isn’t talking to anyone, just standing alone with his or her thoughts. But the beautiful thing about a conference is that you always have something to talk about. Chances are very, very good that the stranger sitting next to you at that breakfast table is a writer. If it’s mid-morning, they’ve been to at least one panel. You have something to ask them about, and they’ll probably have an answer. What panel are you headed to next? What do you write? Are you local, or did you travel to get here? Are you going to that open mic thing later? The questions are logical and easy, and they can be the jumping-off point to a whole great conversation.
- Nametags. Never underestimate the power of a good nametag. “Hi, I’m Jael,” that simplest of introductions, is a heck of a lot easier when I can point to my nametag and the stranger can see the spelling of my name, so I don’t have to explain it. Plus, it makes it a lot easier for me to remember the other person’s name too. (I’m bad at names.) There’s something about being able to see someone’s name right there in front of you that helps forge a connection.
- Shared goals. A conference isn’t a singles mixer, but it’s similar in one way: everyone knows what they’re there for. That person wants to meet you, she just doesn’t know it yet. Or that group of people, that circle, will open up to include you if you just sidle over with your drink. When you’re at a different kind of party it can feel weird to walk up to a group since you might be interrupting a chummy group of friends; at a conference, those people probably just met each other five minutes ago. So sidle right on in. These are fellow writers who also want to pursue their craft, hone their sense of the business, and meet other writers—like you.
So if you’re headed to your first writers’ conference or you’re considering it, but you’re not naturally outgoing, take the leap. You may be going to this conference with a bunch of strangers, but they won’t be strangers for long.
(Image via Flickr’s Creative Commons, by Alan O’Rourke)