I'm going to Blog Elevated again this year, ya'll (what what!!!), and despite this being my third time to go to a blog conference, I still get sweaty palms and a little nauseous at the prospect of all that networking and small talk and meeting people. Yes, believe it or not, extroverted little ole me gets super nervous and hella awkward in most social settings. I always feel like I talk too much, talk too loudly, laugh too much (re: nervously), make socially awkward references to nerd culture that nobody gets (and of course laugh too much at said reference), overtalk or have awkward silent pauses, and am barely able to hold my spazz to tolerable levels.
Since this is my third conference to attend, I've learned to bring my spazz to (somewhat) manageable levels, but if you're shy, nervous, socially awkward, or have anxiety about being in large crowds and actually having to network your way through them, this post is for you! Whether or not you've ever been to a blog conference, chances are you've been in some kind of social situation where you felt overwhelmed and nervous - we all have - and these tips will help you get through your anxiety and make the most of a group of strangers.
- Just Breathe. I know when I'm feeling nervous about something, my pulse races, my stomach drops, and my breathing gets shallow and rapid. I feel shaky, can't focus, and am weak in the knees. In other words, my fight, flight, fright reflex is triggered and I'm useless. Useless! When you feel like this, take a minute or two by yourself to close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing. Breathe slowly and deeply in through your nose and out your mouth. Inhale for a count of five and exhale for a count of ten. Try to feel your heartbeat slowing down and let your mind go blank. This will help slow your pulse, keep you from hyperventilating, and will help your mind stop racing. I usually do this in the car before I go into an event.
- Bring a Friend and if you can't bring a friend, have someone on standby that you can call or text if you really start freaking out. For me, this is usually Dennis. I can remember going to a mixer for the Houston film industry back when I was really trying to break into film acting. I was super excited to be going to this mixer and knew it would be full of people I'd never met before that I'd need to chat up, impress, and hopefully work with someday. Of course, Den came with for moral support; on the way I started getting nervous and it was only getting worse as we parked. We had to walk a couple of blocks to the bar where the mixer was, and by the time we got to the door, I was so freaked out I walked right past the bar to the end of the block, sat down on a bench, put my head between my knees, and had a full on anxiety attack. I was like, there is NO WAY I am going in there, we HAVE TO GO HOME. NOW!!! And Dennis totally talked me down. He stayed calm and level headed the whole time. I finally made it into that mixer and met some people I'm still friends with today. So, have a friend who is willing to talk you down either there with you or who can be a text away.
- Wear Comfy Clothes! Now is not the time to try out a new look or to wear something you're not comfortable in!!! You will end up feeling even more awkward if you're not 100% comfortable with what you're wearing. Check out this post on what to wear to a blog conference - trust me, you don't want to be worrying about what you're wearing on top of worrying about how to interact with strangers. Yes, you want to look nice at a professional event, and a blog conference is one place where you can definitely stray from the widely accepted business casual look, but you don't want to show up feeling like you're dressed like Cher at the 1986 Academy Awards, either (for the record, I love that outfit and would totally rock that look if I had the chance and the abs).
- Read Other People's Blogs. Find out who else is going to the conference and/or speaking and read some of their posts (don't forget to comment). Is there a FB group for attendees? Join that and introduce yourself. If you start getting to know the other bloggers in the comfort of your own home, seeing them in person will be that much easier. WARNING: Don't binge read everyone's blogs and if you do, don't reference posts from 2008. You'll sound like a crazy cyber-stalker. Nobody likes a crazy cyber-stalker.
- Find a Place to Recharge, and I'm not talking about your electronics (although you'll probably need to do that, too). I know I can get pretty drained when I have to meet new people and not act like a spazz. Small talk can take a lot out of anyone and if you know you're going to get overwhelmed, find a place away from everyone where you can be alone to recharge a little. Since most conferences are either at hotels or conference centers, I like to find a hallway nearby that's not being used as a throughway for conference traffic and just be alone for a few minutes. If you can't find a hallway, locate the second closest set of bathrooms - chances are those bathrooms will have less people using them. Going outside for a few minutes is a good idea, too, but beware of doors that lock!! I may or may not have locked myself out of the conference center last year and I may or may not have had to walk all the way around the building to get back in. Being sweaty and winded does not go well with the feelings of embarrassment that go along with getting yourself locked out. Just sayin'. One bonus about conferences is that they're mostly lecture sessions where you're only listening, taking notes, and learning awesome things and not having to do too much interacting.
- Practice Your Elevator Pitch. This one always gets me, "What do you blog about?" I always feel like a deer caught in the headlights when someone asks me this and I usually muster an awkwardly long answer full of self depreciation. Nobody likes to hear someone self depreciate. It's weird, and you don't want a practical stranger to have to try to validate you (which, in my experience, is what most people try to do to make things less awkward). To avoid this very uncomfortable situation, practice what you'll say about your blog. It doesn't have to sound like a marketing pitch - just an honest (brief) explanation of what you write about. And don't sell yourself short!!! Some of the people you meet might be the PR people who can get you paying assignments for your blog.
I could go on and on about all the ways an introvert can survive a blog conference, but for me, these are the tools I use most often. Conferences are supposed to be a fun way to learn new things, hone skills you already have, and to meet like minded people. Don't let your social anxiety get in the way of that. In the end, you'll be really glad that you stepped outside your comfort zone. And if all else, fails, grab a glass of wine to loosen up! Liquid courage, my friends, liquid courage!