As a student, recent grad, or newbie to the work force, you might be (and you SHOULD be) going out of your way to get to all kinds of events and meet people – happy hours, panels, workshops, conferences. But once you’re there, they can be a little intimidating – everyone knows everyone else, there’s the “cool kids” table at the back, and suddenly you’re back in middle school, wondering if you’re going to have to eat your lunch in the bathroom stall again.
There are a few tactics you can have up your sleeve to make sure you don’t end up without a date at the prom conference.
Have a “thing”.
Last month at BlogWorld LA, there were lots of people who had an identifiable characteristic (an exceptionally creative T shirt, a funky hat, a feather boa) that made them stand out and super recognizable. It makes it a lot easier for people if they can say “Oh, do you know Joe? He’s the guy with the pet honey badger/wearing the monocle/doing magic tricks.”
(These may be overkill, but I like to go big or go home. Feel free to rock a simple cowboy hat instead, but remember: ONE FEDORA PER CREW.)
Follow the hashtag.
Create a separate column in Tweetdeck or whatever you’re using specifically for the event’s hashtag. Then start chatting and connecting with fellow attendees, so that you can spot them IRL when there’s a coffee break or lunch, and you’ve already got an icebreaker ready to go.
Have fun/creative business cards.
Some people are anti-business card (insert Hipster Ariel quote here). I’m not one of them. You better believe I’m always stocked up – with both my professional cards, and my personal Moo cards, complete with picture so people can easily remember who I was later:
One of the easiest ways to start a discussion with someone is to start up a conversation based on a question they asked one of the presenters. “Hey, I liked what you had to say about…” Or, “I’ve actually done some work related to that subject…” Likewise, if you ask a (good) question in front of the whole conference, it’s likely that someone will come talk to you – AND you’ll look like a smarty-pants and engaged, thoughtful attendee in the process. Win win!
In this day and age, jeans are usually fine (depending on your industry). But make sure they’re NICE jeans, and throw on a blazer, please and thank you. If you wouldn’t wear it to meet your significant other’s parents, don’t wear it to the conference.
Most importantly: just freaking say hi.
Pull on the big girl panties, man up, whatever you want to call it. Yeah, it can seem awkward to just walk over and say “Hi” to a stranger, but I promise, 99% of people are going to be thrilled that you did. And even if someone is a jerk, then you can talk about THAT JERK OVER THERE with the next person you say hi to.
And remember, just like in high school – you’re just starting out here. It will get easier. After a couple of these things, you’ll start to recognize faces, and after a few more, you’ll actually know people – maybe even friends - whenever you walk into the room.
Just don’t forget to keep on meeting new people, even after you’ve found your lunch table.