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Monday, July 16, 2007

How to Network at a conference

I am not a natural extrovert, but I exert myself when I’m at a conference because I want to meet people. However, since I’m not naturally an extrovert, I had to teach myself how to meet people at a booksigning, or while walking the floor of ICRS, or when mingling with writers at a conference.

These are a few tips for writers who are introverts like myself. Much of it is simply common sense or common politeness, but it’s good to reiterate here so you are aware of specific things to avoid doing, and specific things to exert yourself to do.

DON’T go up to chat with someone you know if they’re talking with someone else. Be sensitive. They might be in an important conversation with their agent/editor/publicist/marketing director.

If they wave hi to you but go on talking to the other person, definitely don’t crash their conversation—just keep walking past. However, if they pause the conversation to give you a hug or say a few words, then it’s fine for you to approach them.

DON’T gush when you see your favorite author/editor/agent. Be friendly but polite. Remember not to go up to chat with them if they’re in conversation with someone else.

However, if they’re waiting, or not talking to anyone, it’s fine to go up and introduce yourself, as long as you’re professional and not blubbering with stars in your eyes that you’re actually speaking to Francine Rivers or Ted Dekker.

DON’T monopolize the person. A few seconds of chatting—less than a minute—is enough, especially if they’re a stranger.

If they ask you questions and seem to want to continue the conversation for longer than a few seconds, then by all means, be friendly and polite.

If they seem distracted, or it’s obvious they’re waiting for someone, or if there’s someone else who arrives whom they appear to want to talk to, then graciously thank them and say goodbye.

Remember, it’s no reflection on you—it’s just that you’re a stranger, and that person has other people they need/want to network with. You do not want to be remembered as the chatty writer who kept Liz Curtis Higgs from speaking to her editor.

DON’T stalk or follow agents/editors/authors into bathrooms or meeting rooms or anywhere. Come on, people, use some common sense and exercise common courtesy. The place to pitch is at a meal table, in a scheduled appointment, or if you’re in conversation with them and they ask you what you write.

If you’ve approached an agent/editor, introduced yourself, and are in friendly conversation, and if you politely ask if you could pitch your story to them and they say yes, then go ahead. However, if they say no, simply smile and thank them. Do not dissolve into hysterics.

DON’T offer your business card unless the conversation has been long and friendly, or if they offer their business card first. It’s pushy to force your card on someone to whom you haven’t talked for a substantial amount of time or have just been introduced, because in doing so, it’s obvious you’re networking for your own purposes.

It’s tempting to want to keep connected with someone like Karen Ball when you meet her, but unless she’s shown interest in you personally or professionally, don’t force your card on her. Wait for her to offer her card first.

DO make extra effort to SMILE. A lot. Many introverts don’t smile because they’re nervous, but not smiling can make your expression look cold or uninterested. So practice smiling and loosen up your facial muscles before heading into a crowd.

DO wear clothes that are professional, yet that you feel completely comfortable in. Nothing tight, binding, too loose, too short. Spend extra money on clothes you like to wear, that make you look professional, that won’t cause you any type of discomfort.

Why is this important? Because if you’re worrying about the waistband cutting into your stomach or the potential for your pinned bra to slip and show itself, you won’t be comfortable talking to people.

DO introduce yourself whenever possible and polite. For example, if you see a friend, and she waves you over and hugs you, then at the first polite break in the conversation, introduce yourself to the person she was speaking to. “Hi, my name is …” and a smile and an outstretched hand. Not hard, even for an introvert, right?

This serves several purposes—you’re networking by meeting someone new, and you’re including them in your conversation with your friend, so they don’t feel excluded.

DO keep your nametag visible, because often it’s so noisy that the person can’t hear your name when it’s mentioned, so they’ll read it off your nametag.

DO spend more time listening than talking when meeting strangers. People like to talk about themselves, even introverted people, so ask a few friendly questions and listen as they talk to you.

If they don’t talk much, ask more questions, or maybe interject with a short anecdote of your own, but do try to encourage them to speak. This will help them loosen up and feel more comfortable around you.

DO take a Media Training class beforehand if you anticipate any type of radio or video interviews while at a conference.

For unpublished writers, a Media Training class is useful to teach a bit of poise when speaking to strangers, so I recommend this option for them, too. If not a Media Training class, at least some public speaking experience—such as Toastmasters—can help you gain more confidence in simply talking with people.

I hope these tips give you a better idea of how you can work a conference. You don’t have to be a winning personality—you only have to be yourself, polite and friendly.

Check out Part Two: Questions to Ask

5 comments:

  1. Oh, Camy! These are excellent tips. Thanks for sharing them. I would have NEVER dreamed you're not a natural extrovert. :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Can you give us a list of things to talk about with these literary people?

    What are some good or great conversation starters?

    I'm stuck at "Hi, my name is . . . "

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  3. Good point, Stephenie. Thanks for the comment. I wrote a follow-up article:

    How to Network at a Conference, part two: Questions to Ask

    Camy

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for the great posts. Me introvert, you great encourager.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks so much, Bonnie! I'm glad this was helpful for you!
    Camy

    ReplyDelete

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