Conferences can be a whole separate ecosystem, and it can be pretty intimidating. As someone who's always been a shy kid but has forced himself to make friends in new cities and in new places, let me share some key tips for meeting people at conferences:
- Remember: you're surrounded by people who are just as nervous but really want to meet you. We're constantly accosted by what my friend Joel Silberman calls "the Supreme Court of the mind." Silence that voice. You're not the only one who's nervous.
- Find an opening line that allows you to build common ground. Friendship is often started by sharing commonality. Find something to ask about- "Is this your first RootsCamp (or whatever conference you're attending)?" or, "What session are you going to?" Keep it focused on something relevant to the experience at the conference if you can.
- Sharing positive energy. If the worst possible thing happens (what I play out in my head all the time) and I get friend-rejected by a new person...that's fine. Find positive energy elsewhere. If you do your best to smile and share positive energy with someone by asking questions, chatting, etc., and they're not giving any back in return, that's okay. Find someone who will.
- Include others. At conferences, we're surrounded by new people. When someone tries to enter in a circle, don't just be polite, be welcoming-open your body language to them and welcome their input. You could even catch them up on what you're talking about.
- You are your own worst critic. We're constantly assaulted by what my friend Joel Silberman calls "the Supreme Court of the mind." Try to silence that voice. In a sea of people, especially if it seems like everyone already knows each other, even going to a session can seem daunting.
Some of the closest friends in the world are folks that I've met randomly at conferences just by striking up conversations at lunch tables ("Did you get the turkey?"), sessions ("Have you ever heard of that person before?"), and in the hallways ("Are you going to the party later?").
Share your tips for making new friends and contacts in the comments on our blog!