I recently came to grips with the fact that I am about 90% an extroverted introvert. I did not know this kind of introvert existed, but once I did a little research, I realized that this is basically my tribe. I won’t bore you with all the details, but extroverted introverts are both intrigued and exhausted by people, need time to warm up in social situations, and are selectively social.
Check. Check. Aaaaaaand, check.
All of this leads to me feeling like a fish out of water at conferences many times. Especially large ones. I don’t like wearing those huge nametags. Small talk is hard. The business card exchange makes me anxious because of the pressure to follow up with 60 different people within 3-5 business days. As you can tell, I’ve given this some thought.
This meme mostly sums up the range of my conference-going experience.
Sometimes I’m the dancing kid, trying to figure out how to catch someone’s attention to have a conversation. Sometimes I’m the girl on the right, who ain’t trying to be bothered. Sometimes I’m the little guy at the end, who tries to jump into a situation that’s already started. Sometimes I’m the lady in the back in purple, just trying to look busy. Tragic on all counts!
Even with all of this, there is significant value in going to the right conferences. So, I continue to bite the bullet, dust of my people skills, and go to them. I suggest that you do the same, for three reasons: (1) to learn from leaders and experts in your field; (2) to build a network of similar-minded colleagues; and (3) to find speaking opportunities.
FYI: At the end of this article, I share where you can find the running list of conferences I keep for women entrepreneurs.
Now, on to the reasons I think you should attend conferences.
#1: To learn from leaders and experts in your field
While we all are brilliant and have mastered the art of Google and Wikipedia searches, this stuff is typically surface level. To go deeper, and really learn about best practices, latest trends, relevant research, and new tools, some of the best avenues are conferences.
Most conference organizers want to provide significant value to conference-goers so that they keep coming back. This is why conferences often feature the best leaders, speakers, and result-getters in their industry. It would be nearly impossible to connect with all of these folks one-on-one in regular life. Conferences are about the closest you’ll come, and the lunches, breaks, and downtime may give you an opportunity to closely interact with some of these people.
Just last week, I attended the Fulbright Association Conference, where I was a speaker. I stuck around for the full conference, which I don’t always do if I’m just a guest.
At any rate, over Saturday’s lunch, I sat next to another speaker, and she gave me literally the step by step blueprint for receiving a Fulbright Specialist award, which I’ve been spinning my wheels about for some time (I’m on the specialist roster but haven’t received an award in three years). Her insight was invaluable, and she freely shared it with me because we were in close proximity with each other. She told me things that I would never find through a Google search.
None of this would’ve happened had I not participated in the conference. So, personal growth, learning and education is a huge benefit of going to conferences.
#2: To build a network of similar-minded colleagues
Networking is another benefit to conferences. Now, “networking” is a term I used to hear and roll my eyes, because I did not really understand or see the value in it. My whole #schmood and approach to all things work-related was Marshawn Lynch-esque.
I wanted to get in, get out, and spend my free time doing other things. But this was shortsighted. What I appreciate now is that the things I want out of life require me to level up, and I may not have the experience or access to do this on my own. My network of experienced colleagues and champions, however, have helped me navigate all kinds of new spaces.
My network has helped me get jobs, clients, travel opportunities, speaking engagements, and all kinds of things. My network has also relied on my expertise too–if you’ve got legal questions, entrepreneurship struggles, or personal brand goals, I’m your woman. And if you’re part of my tribe, I’m happy to help you.
Conferences are one of the best places to find this kind of network for yourself and be this kind of network for other people. If large groups of people have gathered together, you must have similar fields, backgrounds or interests. There will be people at conferences who you can learn from and people who you can be of service to as well.
When I go to conferences now, I only go to those that I believe will be valuable for whatever my needs are at the moment. And, I don’t go with selfish interests–I go to be of service to others and not just to look for who can do something for me.
Last year, Minda Harts from the #SecureTheSeat podcast did a show on networking, which I’m going to link to here and embed below. She and her guest, Veleisa Patton Burrell, offered some good suggestions about networking that are applicable to conferences and other events.
#3 To find speaking opportunities
Part of my brand and business revolve around my speaking engagements. As some of you know, I am signed to a speakers bureau, Gravity Speakers, and give a number of talks, remarks, and speeches each year.
One of the best places to scope out speaking opportunities is, you guessed it, at conferences! If you’re going to a conference as an attendee, you’ll get a feel for the type and quality of speaker the organization is looking for. You’ll also get a definite vibe for what is missing (often missing are women, POC, people with different abilities/disabilities, etc.). You could put yourself on the organization’s radar for next time, or check out the Call for Speakers for future years.
In addition, if you’re going to a conference as a speaker, your next speaking gig may come from that! If you kill it, there may be people in the audience who invite you to come speak elsewhere. This has happened to me on more than a few occasions.
So, my love-hate relationship with conferences doesn’t have that much “hate” after all!
What is your approach to conferences? Do you find them valuable? If you go, what kinds of strategies do you use to avoid awkwardness? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.
Please give as much information as you can in response to these questions. I’d be happy to share more tools and resources that help you get what you want. And, I know the other folks reading this can learn from your experiences! We are all in this together.
I always say that I’m on a mission to build a nation of good people with dynamic personal brands and successful businesses. We can learn from each other on this journey, particularly when we have accountability partners. This is why I am building a whole nation of them.
You can connect to the the private community I’ve created to provide support and encouragement along the journey–online and via app. Check us out at programs.shontavia.com or via the Mighty Networks App.
Download the Mighty Network app by clicking here. Once it downloads, click “Find a Mighty Network” and search for Shontavia Johnson. You’ll find content there that I may not share elsewhere.
Thank you so much for joining me on this roller coaster of an experience. I am eternally grateful that I get to do this work with wonderful people each day.
Let’s make it happen,