Note: Irving Washington originally wrote this post in 2015, but it remains extremely applicable today. We’ve refreshed it from our archives to make sure ONA17 attendees get this great advice.
ONA’s annual conference has landed in D.C., our team’s home turf. What began as just a few hundred attendees to now over 2,500 people, the conference is one of the most exciting and energetic journo gatherings in the world.
This also will be our largest conference yet. As a self-proclaimed introvert, I know that in large crowds we can be the life of the party or the quietest person in the room. (As a PSA to our extroverted friends, introversion has nothing to do with shyness or social awkwardness — if I had a dime for every time someone doubted my introversion, I’d be rich — but more to do with our response to stimulation and need for renewal.)
Having clocked in at nearly 50 journalism conferences and seven ONA conferences, I feel pretty confident the following strategy guide will help my #ONAIntroverts at ONA17.
Have a “start early” strategy. Nothing is more overwhelming to an introvert than attending an event where you don’t know anyone. Eliminate this by connecting now with attendees online. Follow conversations on #ONA17, @ONA, and @ONAConf. Introduce yourself in our ONA17 Facebook Group and join other groups such as our ONA International, ONA Educators and Diverse Social Media Editors and Digital Journalists. You’re most likely separated by two degrees from someone in the digital journo world. Scan the speaker list and reach out to anyone you know or find someone to introduce you prior to the conference.
Have an overall conference strategy. A common introverted procrastination technique is to just wing it. You’re investing your time and money to attend, so spend some time thinking about how to make your experience the best. Do you want to learn a particular skill? Check out our hands-on workshops. Want to meet some awesome people? Schedule a chat with one of our speakers.
Have a networking strategy. I know. I know. The word “networking” alone makes introverts cringe. Not because we don’t enjoy great people and conversations, but because we like to view our relationships as genuine and authentic. But ONA17 will have a ton of opportunities to develop real connections.
Pro tips for social events:
Get there early. Yes, it can be awkward when there is no one there yet, but it’s also the best time to meet folks. Plus, the perfect conversation starter is talking about getting there early.
Act like the host. This is perhaps the best advice I’ve ever received. Hosts welcome, connect and make sure guests have a good time. You will make a ton of friends this way.
Find the connectors. Some people are naturals at this. Meet as many of them as you can. They will introduce you to all kinds of interesting people. Some well-known ONA connectors you can reach out to in advance are Robert Hernandez, Benet Wilson, Greg Linch and Mandy Jenkins. (Being the connectors they are, they all agreed to help my fellow introverts reading this post.) Blogger and author Tim Ferriss has a great podcast on building a world-class network from his experience at SXSW, which is perfect advice for ONA17 as well.
Plan your stories. By now, you know the normal questions at these shindigs: Where are you from? What do you do? What do you think of the conference? One of the reasons introverts shine as speakers is that we take time to prepare. Plan engaging stories to answer these questions in advance.
Have a session strategy. Networking isn’t limited to social events. Here are some sessions that will help you keep meeting interesting people throughout the day.
- First-Timer Orientation: This is your holy-grail opportunity. Hundreds of newbies convene at once to learn about the conference. There’s no better way to connect to someone than sharing a first-time experience together. Meet as many folks as you can and build your conference “posse” — who could be future life-long friends and colleagues you’ll reminisce with about how you met at ONA17.
- Table Talks: This series of participatory, topic-focused conversations will be another chance to meet colleagues who have similar interests. Introverts are the chattiest around topics we care about. Share your knowledge and expertise in these inspiring conversations.
- The Midway: This is the playground of journalism innovation and collaboration. From product launches to demos to hands-on session, this is the place to hang out and meet some of the best and brightest minds in the industry.
Have a recharge strategy. You are not an extrovert. Say it with me again: You are not an extrovert. This is perhaps the single most important advice. If you overplan and attend every session and party, you will be drained, contrary to our extroverted friends, who will only get more recharged with every event. Make sure to plan your breaks and rest. It’s OK if you don’t go to everything. Make sure you’re at your best for the events you do attend.
If all else fails, seek me out (@IrvWashington3). I’m not only an expert introvert, I’m pretty knowledgable about ONA17, too.