Five tips for effective networking at the conference
By Chris Coward, Conference Marketing Chairperson and Introvert
“There’ll be seven agents,” I said. “Eight publishers. Eighteen featured faculty.”
Sandy gulped. “That’s good?”
Whoops. Not exactly the approach to encourage her to attend the annual Florida Writers Conference. Sandy is an introvert. She’d rather thrust her head in a vice than navigate a crowd or pitch her manuscript.
“Sandy” (not her real name) is one of the best writers I know, yet nothing she’s written has gotten farther than her dresser drawer. She’s not alone. Many writers (me included) are introverts. The very idea of “working” a crowd sends us running. During past conferences, I’ve made several trips to the ladies’ room to decompress. And I’ve seen some of you there.
So, how do introverted writers compete with our extraverted peers? How do we enjoy ourselves in the process? Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, suggests some answers.
Below are five conference-applicable tips from Susan’s book and my own experience.
- Do what you do naturally. Introverts are good listeners. Well, duh, who doesn’t love a good listener? Introverts also tend to enjoy meaningful conversations. Remind yourself you don’t have to “work the room.” Instead, focus on having conversations with fewer people in smaller groups. You can follow up on only so many contacts, anyway, so feel free to make them count.
- Prepare for the conference. Check the FWA website to familiarize yourself with the conference schedule, faculty, and workshops. If you know what to expect, you’ll feel less confusion and pressure.
- Prepare for your interviews. If you’ve scheduled an interview, research your interviewer. Begin with FWA’s summaries, but don’t stop there. Check your interviewers’ websites to get a deeper sense of who they are and what they’re looking for. Then when you meet your interviewer face to face, listen and be your usual polite and charming self. (Don’t forget to bring business cards.)
- Reward yourself with decompression time. As Susan points out, introverts succeed in many roles. They’re CEOs, professors, actors—the whole gamut. What makes an introvert an introvert is not what s/he does, but how certain activities affect them. If giving a speech or attending a large gathering tires you after a while, allow yourself the “reward” of some downtime. I don’t mean you should hide out in your room for the duration of the conference, but it’s okay to recharge your batteries alone a half hour before dinner. This gift to yourself will help you genuinely enjoy your next conversation.
- Volunteer. I love this one. If you’re an FWA volunteer, your knowledge of the conference players and issues gives you confidence. Nor does it hurt that you work with great people. Writers Helping Writers is not just a slogan; it’s a deep, relaxing breath.
Sandy cocked her head. “So all I have to do is prepare and be myself?”
“Yep. You’ll do great and have fun.”
Not that it hurt to remind her that introverts comprise one third to one half the population; not that it hurt to point out that we introverts tread among esteemed colleagues: Warren Buffett, Rosa Parks, Charles Darwin, J.K. Rowling, Albert Einstein, and Mahatma Gandhi, among others. All introverts! Sandy understood. At the Florida Writers Conference October 19-21 at the Orlando Marriott Lake Mary, networking is not a four-letter word. Networking can be done her way—our way—and we can succeed and have fun.
What kind of conversations do you like? How do you prepare for interviews? Hey, extroverts [shouting, here], what do you think?