by Jeremy Wright (CEO @ BNOTIONS.ca / Author @ http://nakeddating.tumblr.com)
Conferences are living, breathing organisms. They change year to year, and yet seem to maintain a core “ness”. They have personalities, social conventions, cliques and pacing. The SxSWness, for example, includes inserting yourself into groups, a focus on alcohol-fueled networking and a long history of waking up in the afternoon (which is fine since only first-years go to the sessions anyways).
BlogWorld’s “ness” is different. This is partly due to the locale being Las Vegas instead of Austin, but mostly because as an “organism” BWE is still young. As a result, much of the culture and social norms are still evolving.
In this (admittedly lengthy) post I’ll lay down some #science for you BWE (shorthand for BlogWorld Expo, Twitter #hashtaggery defined by #bwe10) first-timers. This post is specifically targeted at folk like yours truly who are introverts (either secretly or obviously).
BWE Social Norms
As an introvert, confidence often comes from knowing the social norms of a given situation or social group. When I don’t know anybody, don’t know how to act or I’m just flat out tired I can seem withdrawn, quiet or grumpy. If you’re anything like me, going into a situation (whether it’s a job interview, a first date or a conference), knowing the people, the norms and the expectations allows you to be just a bit more you. So, to help you out, here’s the braindump on how to surf the social wave that is BWE!
Note: If you’re ever unsure what to do, feel a bit lost, or just want to meet random people, shoot folk who are using the #bwe10 hashtag, or veterans like yours truly (@jeremywright) a tweet. People are almost always more helpful than you think they’ll be!
Braindump time! Here are 8 things that aren’t normal in normal life but are normal at BlogWorld:
- Introducing yourself with just your first name (vs a practiced schpiel)
- Waiting until someone asks for your business card to give it to them (like Chris (http://www.chrisbrogan.com/9-ways-to-rock-blog-world-expo/), I’m a big believer in only exchanging business cards if you expect to do business together, otherwise just follow each other on Twitter!)
- Having someone stop the conversation in order to send you an email, add you to twitter or tweet something you just said. Sad, but it’s become the norm to mix the online and offline worlds.
- Use “so what are you doing later?” (ahem, not in a creepy way…) as a means to get a group/individual to tag you along.
- Start an impromptu after party. Go with the flow if you get pulled in!
- Plan a very loose schedule (potential activities) and a firm schedule (appointments) so you can be free to float a bit more. Flexibility is sexy.
- Drag an unsuspecting n00b (that’s you!) along to a party, lunch, drinks, etc
- Walk up to your favourite social media douchebag celebrity and ask questions, hangout and be cool
In short, being introverted is totally normal and cool! #happydance!
That said, there are 4 key skills you’ll need if you’re going to go from vaguely functional introvert to the kind of introvert that throws parties, does #techkaraoke and has a suite at @LuxorLV named after them (okay that last one is on my #bucketlist):
- Jumping into a conversation
- Buying someone a drink
- Striking up a conversation with a girl
- Working a room
Jumping Into a Conversation
Let’s be honest, this is the hardest part. It’s like my grandma used to say: the hardest part of swimming is not sinking. Yeah, she was wise, grams was.
So here are the easiest steps:
- Find a physical spot: Groups tend to self-distribute (I found a mathematical formula for this, but even I’m not geeky enough to post it, heh), so the vast majority will automatically self-adjust once you stand about a foot beyond the group’s perimeter. Once it does, join the circle. Incidentally, this also works for dancing, but that’s for the advanced and really brave (read: drunk) geek.
- Make eye contact: Eye contact is your strongest weapon. It doesn’t require any words, doesn’t require you to do anything except look around the circle, and when someone makes eye contact don’t look away, just give a friendly nod.
- Dip your toe in: If you’re a funny person (and someone beside your mom has told you this), a quick quip will get you a laugh, and hence acceptance into the group. If you’re not, wait until you have something meaningful to say. If after 3-4 minutes nothing comes up, ask a question: “Where are you guys from?” “Are y’all here together?” “Wow, did anyone else forget to bring deodorant?” are all acceptable questions to get things going.
Now this assumes that the party isn’t too loud, that the group is fairly static, etc. If not, your task is harder, so you should make a “friend” (ideally someone that laughs at your deodorant jokes) and stick close. It’s less weird than it seems, unless you did (in fact) forget to bring deodorant! As a result, practice this at the convention center before you go to a party: once you’ve successfully gotten in 4-5 groups, you’ll be ready to try this on the big fish in a hostile environment!
Buying Someone a Drinktini
Okay, here’s the dirty little secret: want to talk to someone specific? Buy them a drink. There’s a social contract that they need to stick around to finish it. Note: this also means if someone buys you one, stick around to finish it.
The process for doing this is simple: say hi; then offer to buy them a drink (because yours is empty, you boozer); and then come back, be charming, make intermittent eye contact, entertain them, don’t stare
Note: Just like a first date (see: #nakeddating at http://nakeddating.tumblr.com), it’s impolite to roofie someone during a networking event.
Striking Up a Conversation With a Girl
If there’s one thing I’ve learned by writing a self-deprecating dating blog (http://nakeddating.tumblr.com) it’s that girls are scary and will eat your soul if you let them… or you’d think that’s what they did based on how scared guys can be of them!
If you’re like me, you were a total loser in high school, never felt confident, attractive, etc. It gets better, and what helps it get better is practice! So here’s your practice drill for the first party, if talking to girls is as hard for you as it was for me. You must successfully complete this drill 10 times in order to pass. Failure is not an option. Like yoda said: there is no try, there is only do. Or something. That line always sounded slightly off to me.
- Eye contact is good, staring (at any part of her) is bad… #veryverybad
- Be nice. Start out conversation with a compliment. “Love your sweater. It has a great style. Where did you get it? My sister’s birthday coming is coming up and I could check it out for her.” Instant nice guy!!! Then you are right into the let’s talk about family convo which is pretty easy. Start with asking if she has brothers or sisters. Don’t mock her cats (any girl wearing a sweater is bound to have cats). If she’s in a group, use the tips above!
- Buy her a drink, if necessary, per the above. Don’t assume most will want wine/spritzers/girly drinks. Some will want beer. Only attempt to mock a girly drink (typically contains “tini” in the name, with a fruit sound at the front of it) if you can do it in a cute/cheeky way (ie: if you get a frown, use #4!)
- Do not ask her if she plays WoW or Wii Fit (pretty pretty please) though Mario Party is entirely acceptable, as is Rock Band.
- It’s okay if the conversation lags a bit to just say, “Gawd! I am such a geek,” it will be endearing and good for a laugh (hers). And if you have said anything totally stupid in the last few minutes this expression is like a ‘get out of jail free card’. But only use it once per girl.
- Do not ask if she’s as nervous as you are (unless you can pull that off that confident awkward thing).
- Smile! Awkward, cute, cheeky grins are never, evar a bad thing.
- Be honest. Girls can smell guy bullshit from miles away. Seriously.
Beyond that? Talk louder, and treat conversation as a tennis match: don’t let the ball drop. And trust me, if this is at a party, running away is harder than it looks. And will end up on YouTube. And not in a good way. #learningfromexperience
Working a Room
If you’re an introvert, the very idea of working a room of 500 people is terrifying. So here’s the deal. Every room is actually a bunch of small groups, with folk flowing in between. So socially, you really only need to master 3 skills: entering/exiting/participating in groups, going with the flow of people throughout the room to get/give booze/go to the can/hurl over the side of the building if you messed up when talking to a girl and knowing when to arrive/leave.
When moving through the room, don’t move through groups: follow the existing flow of people. As you move along, make eye contact, smile, nod. If a group/person notices you, step out of the flow of people and say hi. Otherwise find a group that looks small/big enough for you, and follow the tips above. Rinse, repeat.
Don’t feel you need to “touch” every group. If you nail 10 ish groups, you’ve done well. If you actually have convos with 5 of those groups, even better.
Be Thou Unafraid
Dirty little secret: if you’re a first timer, there are more new people at BWE this year than there are veterans. Social media folk, especially introverts or people around for the first time are like camels: they’re more scared of you than you are of them. So be nice, be friendly and say hi. And if you get lost, ask for help on Twitter. It’s like your own Easy Button (ahem)!
Take it from an introvert: it sucks, it’s scary, but the friendship, relationships, laughter and networking are more than worth the risk!