This year will be my third WDS (Word Domination Summit – a meetup for people living unconventionally). I wrote this post just before last year’s conference, and had a lot of people tell me they’d read it before coming and it had set their mind at ease. So I’m updating it and reposting it for 2015, in hopes it will do the same for you.
The first year I attended, I didn’t know anyone and don’t feel I took advantage of all the opportunities for socializing that WDS provided. I did better last year – hosting my own meetup and being more involved in activities. This year will be even better.
Conferences can be painful for introverts. People are friendly, but you also need to make an effort. For newbies or old-hats who want to make the most of their experience, here are some tips to help get you in the right state of mind:
1. Talk to everybody
Although once very confident years of self-employment have made social interaction extremely anxiety-inducing and awkward for me. But standing around next to someone and having both of you wonder whether or not you should talk is also awkward. Be the first to break the silence. Assume everybody else is the introvert. Assume everybody else is also there to make friends and meet people. If you’re standing near someone for more than five seconds, introduce yourself.
Make it a rule. Make it a game. Punish and/or reward yourself. Assume the universe has placed you next to that specific person for a reason – assume fate is bending over backwards to bring the right people to you to fulfill your dreams and goals. But that final step is yours to take.
2. Don’t talk about yourself until you’re asked
Most conversations go like this,
First person: “What do you do?”
Second person: Long spiel about stuff, followed by… “And you?”
First person: long spiel about stuff.
After that’s out of the way, both people move on to meet someone more interesting.
Those conversations are mostly a waste of time.
Nobody really cares about what you are doing; people care about what they themselves are doing and how what you are doing relates to them.
Also, people will remember the people they like, not necessarily the ones doing interesting things.
Read Dale Carnegie’s classic Make Friends and Influence People.
Make it a point to listen to other people – find something in what they are saying that interests you and follow up. Find a way that it connects with what you’re doing – not to steer the conversation toward yourself, but so that you can ask genuine questions and really care about the answers. Asking questions, listening and caring about what they are working on will leave a far bigger impression on them than you doing all the talking.
You should also look into the “mirroring” technique, a very simple way to increase your connection with people just by subtly copying their body postures.
But mostly, WDS is about having fun and making genuine relationships; not networking. Few people offer or exchange business cards at all. “What do you do?” is probably the wrong question, as is “Why did you come here?”
Think of a better question, that relates to your brand. For example, I could ask people, “Do you think you’re a creative person? What do you enjoy creating? What value are you bringing into the world?” Then I’d give them a “Creative Genius” magnet or postcard or something inspirational they can hang in their office. People will be much more likely to remember me.
3. That said, know exactly who you are
When people ask you what you do, what you’re passionate about, or what you’re working on right now, have an answer. Don’t just stumble around and list a whole bunch of things and conclude with “I don’t really know what I’m interested in or what I’m doing.” Decide beforehand. What’s your major goal for 2015? Who do you want to become? How do you want to influence people? Even if you haven’t yet taken any steps towards your goal, define your ideal title and tagline in one sentence.
“I help people get out of debt and simplify their lives by helping them sell their stuff.”
“I teach people how to make delicious natural smoothies from raw ingredients.”
Whatever you are passionate about, find a way you can contribute, and make yourself the #1 go to person for your specific niche.
Have business cards printed (I noticed last year that very few people actually had or exchanged business cards – don’t be too forward about flashing them around, but have one ready in case someone asks for your contact details). Put your tagline and title on the card; the first person you have to convince is yourself. Practice saying it. Believe in it.
The first year I droned on about my PhD thesis (boring!). Last year I usually said I did book cover designs. I’m in transition right now, but I might say I write paranormal romance novels – because I will be focused on publishing fiction for the next couple of years. On the other hand, while interesting, it may be safer to let people know I’m a book designer.
4. Make New Friends
The trick to making real friends is finding people you are likely to get along with: attending the meetups or activities will be more beneficial than striking up a random conversation, since you’ll be united around a certain topic or hobby. But also – making friends is not about talking shop. What they do for a living and what you do don’t have to intersect; friendship goes beyond the scope of mutual benefit. The best way to make friends is to have fun, talk about something else, play games, joke around.
Never steer a conversation towards yourself; interrogation style questioning can also backfire. Just try to have as much fun as you can, with everybody you meet. Try to make everybody smile. Smile at everyone. Often just hanging around someone is much more powerful than actually talking about stuff – once you make a real, friendly connection, you can follow up by email later to learn more about them.
5. Have a “hit-list”
Although you should be friendly with everybody, WDS is a good opportunity to meet specific people in your field that you respect and admire. Search through the attendees, speakers and guests. Make a note of anyone who looks really interesting. Research their blogs, websites or social media profiles. Make a “cheat-sheet” with their names and pictures.
Make it a personal goal to meet them (you can even carry the list with you and scratch them off one by one). These meetings will go better if you can think of a specific question to ask them related to what you’re working on. For example I could say “Hi ___name___ , I’m Derek Murphy, I work with indie authors – my followers often ask me about book marketing and I was wondering if you have a #1 book marketing tip I could share with them.” (I might actually do this and try and get people on video… although that could be really annoying).
If you want, you could ask all of these people the same question and then write an amazing blog post with all their answers and links to their sites (brilliant idea, btw).
That project will give you direction and purpose; it will be like a scavenger hunt – plus after they meet you, and after they see the blog article you’ve written about them, they are much more likely to know who you are and be more open to future collaboration.
6. Stand Out
There will be a lot of people at WDS. You want to find a way to let people know you’re fun and interesting. Sometimes the easiest way to do this is by “peacocking” – wearing something outrageous or noticeable. A funny hat or a big button that says “Talk to me, I’m shy!” Or at least something awesome that people will comment on; maybe something you wouldn’t normally consider wearing. Trying to “fit in” or dress conservatively will probably backfire. The dress code at WDS is casual to business casual (with an inevitable dash of Hipster), but with so many people, you need a bit of flash and dazzle (a custom T-shirt? A pair of suspenders and a big moustache?)
I had planned to wear a knight in armor costume this year, but since I didn’t find the castle I want to buy, that project is on hold.
7. Do Favors
One of the biggest benefits to attending WDS is to find out what people are struggling with. What problems are people facing? What do they need help with? Identifying these issues, and finding the intersect between what you know how to do and what people need, is the gateway to a profitable business.
Listen to people. Make notes of things they are struggling with and see if you can help them – or if you can introduce them to someone they should know.
Be the connector. Recommend books they should read. Solve a simple problem for them. Point them in the right direction. You can do this immediately or followup (if someone needed a book cover design, for example, I might remember the name of the book and make up some samples after the conference. They’ll be astounded that I took the time – of course I wouldn’t charge them, since it would defeat the point of the gesture, but it would cement a friendly relationship.)
8. Keep in touch
So you made a few friends and connections – make a point to connect with them online or send an email saying “I really enjoyed meeting you at WDS.” I really meant to do this last year but put it off… Keep involved with what they are doing, support their projects, share their news and try to be helpful throughout the year. Friendships take time to develop.
BONUS: Something I also hope to do, is try and memorize the names+faces of as many people as I can attending the same meetups or with similar interests. Yes it’s a little strange and creepy. On the other hand, there isn’t much time to make all the friends you want to. Skip the “what’s your name/what do you do” stage by already knowing that info. Then you can move on to more interesting stuff like goals and dreams.
What Not to Do at WDS
-Don’t interrupt conversations to talk more about yourself.
-Don’t sulk in corners waiting for someone to approach you.
-Don’t take breaks to go back and nap in your hotel room.
-Don’t stay out partying late if you’re going to be a zombie the next day.
-If it’s your first time in Portland, don’t miss seeing a little bit of the city – it’s an awesome town.
-If you see me there, don’t forget to say hi!
(I’m hosting an “Author’s Picnic” meetup at Jamison Park on Friday afternoon… come and hangout if you want to talk books!)