small talk starters for introverts

The Introvert’s Guide to Conferencing, Part 2

Yesterday I shared my top 3 tips to conference like a superstar even if you’re an introvert. If you missed it, you can catch up here.

Today, we’re moving on to the next 5 tips:

4. Clear Your Schedule for Arrival

Before you even leave for the conference, block out the first few days after you’ll arrive home. No appointments. No to-do’s. Just rest.

This is something I learned the hard way. After attending Allume last fall, I returned home to resume my 31-day series… and I didn’t write a single thing. I had several follow-up tasks (including emailing publishers and agents), and I couldn’t bring myself to work. All I did all day was lounge around the house, reading books, snacking on pretzels, and taking naps. (Granted, I was 4 months pregnant, but still…) I felt sad and gloomy and couldn’t figure out WHY since the conference had been such a blast.

I was depleted, and hadn’t given myself any time to transition from the Conference World to my real world.

This year, lesson learned. As soon as I bought my Speak Up ticket, I blocked out the 4 days after I would arrive home. I let my husband know, so he wouldn’t accidentally volunteer me for anything, and I pushed any other appointments to the following week. At the conference, I stayed up late, laughed loud, and networked like a ninja, knowing that upon return I could sleep, snuggle with my babies, read, and do whatever else I needed to recover.

Best. Decision. Ever.

(If you can’t afford to take that long of a break, try to minimize your commitments so you have at least a few hours of solitude to transition from conference to home/work life. This might mean traveling to the conference by yourself, but that can be a good thing. It really DOES make a difference.)

5. Prepare Small Talk Prompts

Small talk is the bane of my existence, and I’m sure many of you feel the same.5 small talk starters for introverts

Why talk about the weather when there are more important things in life?

Well, simply because small talk builds trust to share the deep stuff. Small talk is necessary, so make it less painful by preparing a few conversation starters you can pull out whenever you sit down for a meal with strangers or are sitting next to someone waiting for a session to start.

Here are a few of my favorite conversation starters:

  • Where are you from? …Have you lived there long?
  • Is this your first time attending?
  • What are you most looking forward to at this conference?
  • What’s been your favorite session so far?
  • What do you enjoy most about __[conference topic]__?

Notice that all but one question is open-ended, inviting the other person to share as much as she wants. Listen carefully, and mentally note common connection points that can turn to deeper conversation. You’ll often leave Christian conferences with lifelong friendships that were sparked from these serendipitous conversations.

6. Look for the Lovelies

Whenever you enter a room, if you don’t know anyone and are starting to hyperventilate (“Where do I sit?! This is like 5th grade lunch period all over again!”), take a deep breath and scan the room. Find someone who is sitting by herself and has open body language; walk up to her and ask if you can sit next to her. Complement her on her blouse, notebook, hair color, anything, and then proceed with a small talk prompt.

Funny story here: When I first arrived at Speak Up on opening night, I was a little late (because I had to pump, see #2) and I walked into a ballroom full of women half-way through dinner. I started to panic just a little, but took my own advice and, scanning the room, found a table off to the side with a few open seats. So I took a deep breath, walked up to a lovely lady, and asked if anyone was sitting at the open seat to her left. She looked at me a little bewildered and shook her head no. So I smiled broadly, pulled out the chair, and sat down, bowing my head to bless the food.

When I looked up, the other three ladies were eyeing me curiously, so I introduced myself and asked if they were excited for the conference. They nodded enthusiastically, and asked me the same. Of course I said yes, and as I looked around the table, I noticed the lovely lady sitting next to me was adjusting an ear microphone. I quickly glanced at the lady across from me and saw that Carol Kent (the legend herself) was bent over conversing with her in low tones. My heart sank to the pit of my stomach as I realized that… I had sat down at the conference organizers’ table, and the lovely lady sitting next to me was that night’s key note speaker, Becky Harling. Oh dear.  Thankfully, they were very gracious and overlooked my faux pas, and I learned to look more closely before selecting a table in the future.

But more than that, I learned the value of welcoming strangers to your table, as well as the unexpected joys of walking up to strangers and inviting yourself. Some of the best conversations I’ve had at conferences happened purely by happenstance, picking a seat next to someone sitting by herself or starting a convo with someone sitting next to me.

7. Jot Down Connection Points

If you’re like me, you want to make the most of every opportunity to network, both with other attendees and with speakers.

To make this process easier, jot down questions or connection points during speeches or sessions.

In the upper-right hand of the handout, answer these questions:

  • Do you have something in common with the speaker?
  • Did something she said bring up another question you wished she answered?
  • Did she mention a frustration you could help solve?
  • Is there something she said that caused a light-bulb moment for you?

Be sure to offer sincere thanks to the presenter. Speakers are often just as insecure as we are, and a few words of honest affirmation go a long way.

Bonus points if you follow up a week or two after the conference with one take-away you put into action. Any teacher loves to see students following through and experiencing break-throughs.

8. Exchange Business Cards

You do have business cards, right? They don’t have to be fancy, but it beats exchanging contact information scribbled on the back of a napkin. (If you have a choice, include your picture on your card–visual recognition is stronger than name recognition.) Conferences are a great opportunity to network with other people in your niche, which often leads to exchanging guest posts, serving on launch teams, and other fun ways to support each other.   

Quick tip: If you want to give someone your card, first ask them if they have a card. That way you’re initiating the exchange without look like a self-absorbed schmuck.

As soon as the conversation is over and you have a moment alone, jot a connection point on their card to remember the conversation: the title of their upcoming book, their home town where your uncle lives, the hobby you have in common–anything that will jog your memory and help you reconnect after the conference.

That’s it for today’s Introvert Conference Tips. I’ll be back tomorrow with tips #9-12. Do you have a funny story about one of today’s tips? Share with us below and let’s laugh and learn together.