How to be a shy newbie at a conference

A friend was asking me for some advice on how to have a successful first conference experience (at a non-tech conference) and I had some thoughts that might be useful to others as well.

  1. Volunteer. There’s no better way for a newbie to meet people than to volunteer. You usually get a chance to come in contact with conference organizers, speakers, and attendees alike. And the feeling of “officialness” can take the edge off of newbie nerves.
  2. Remember everyone here wants to make new friends. A conference is one of the few places where randomly introducing yourself to people is nearly always welcome. Someone looks interesting? Introduce yourself. Someone is standing alone? Introduce yourself.
  3. You don’t have to be interesting. Everyone who attends a conference as a “nobody” feels the urge to “puff up”: to make their experience/accomplishments/plans sound impressive to stand up to all the other impressive people. But this kind of posturing tends to be obvious and off-putting. Being real about your new-ness and yes, even about your anxieties, is disarming and relatable and a much better way to make friends.
  4. Find a conf buddy. If you’re in the lunch line and you hit if off with a fellow attendee who is as shy and anxious as yourself, you’re going to feel tempted to stand off to the side with them for the rest of the event. Here’s a better plan: ask them to be your conf buddy. Roam around together, meeting people and joining knots of conversation. Suddenly, you’re not an awkward loner anymore: you’re a cool person with a friend! You’re no longer 100% responsible for filling quiet moments in conversations. It’s 10x easier to meet more new people when you have a friend with you than when you’re alone.

I hope these suggestions are helpful to you!

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