This will be my fifth WDS (Word Domination Summit – a meetup for people living unconventionally). I wrote this post years ago before the 2014 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 2022 in hopes it will do the same for you.
Update: holy cow it’s been a rough few years. I am planning to attend despite international travel restrictions so I hope to see you there! If it’s your first WDS, I hope this post captures some of the energy. I’m definitely looking forward to breathing in some inspiration.
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 my second 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 (though these days I’m mostly known as that castle guy.)
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 2022? Who do you want to become? What do you want to learn? How would you like to be spending your time? How do you want to influence people (maybe you don’t, and that’s fine!) 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.”
“I’d like to write a book… or build a cabin with my bare hands.”
Whatever you are passionate about, find a way you can contribute, and make yourself the #1 go to person for your specific niche (if that’s what you want to do!). Maybe, like me, you’re just coming to socialize and have fun; which arguably is WAY more important and also more effective, than trying to “network” with “contacts.”
Some of my favorite people and lifelong friends from WDS I made playing foosball or in accidental off-program events like walking to the food carts or waiting in line.
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.
Ha I haven’t had business cards in years… I might have one crumpled in my backpack somewhere. But it’s still a good idea to have something on you in case anyone wants a quick and easy way to follow up or keep in touch.
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.
What am I even doing right now? Buying up a bunch of random blogs on cats, weed and unicorns for niche content sites and high authority domain backlinks, so I can hit #1 in google. Oh and I still write fantasy books.
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.
Ask questions, and don’t be afraid to learn. I love to talk shop and I’ve been told my casual presentation on publishing (sitting in a circle in the park) was life-changing for at least one author (who I later helped launch her book).
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 ______ , 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).
Ew, my post-pandemic introvert self hates that idea.
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). It makes good content, I actually have one with writing quotes from famous YA authors.
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. (Maybe my vampire cosplay?)
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.
ON SECOND THOUGHT – screw the last two. Take naps and breaks whenever you need to recharge. And party if you want to… as night owl, I sometimes skip the early morning talks in favor of the later evening stuff. Though *most* people will be exhausted since the meetups begin several days earlier.
- Definitely come to the opening party.
- Weed is legal in Portland, let me know if you need tips on the best strains for creativity.
- 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!
(PS. I might host a meetup… what are you most interested in learning?)
I’m a philosophy dropout with a PhD in Literature. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write fantasy novels to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles.
Thanks Derek, great tips and timely. It’ll be my first-time this year so appreciate the additional insight 🙂
Thanks for the great tips! This will be my first time at WDS and I am so excited to meet all the wonderful people attending!
I hope our paths cross! 🙂
Great – don’t forget to say hi!
Oh I won’t! Are you planning on attending any academies?
Awesome – thanks for this, I’ll be seeing you at WDS:) Also, Taiwan is one of my favourite places – can’t wait to know more about your experiences there!
I’ll add “shop for large sunflower hat” to my WDS 2015 prep list. Thanks for the helpful tips, perhaps I’ll see you there.
Came across this great post on Twitter today. What a great list of tips. Your bio has me thinking (managing a handful of online businesses) – you might just land yourself on my “hit list” 🙂
Thanks for the helpful post Derek. So you’re saying I should pack the lederhosen, just in case? Hope to see you there!
Two year veteran (and shy introvert) here. I love the scavenger hunt idea and wearing something to stand out. Definitely agree with #1, talk to anybody and everybody. Talking to complete strangers is mutually accepted and highly encouraged. Have a few compelling questions to throw at people to start a conversation
Great article Derek, thanks for the tips! Portland is a long way to travel from Australia, so I’m looking for every piece of information that might make WDS valuable for me!