How many times have you found yourself on your phone, scrolling through your same old feed, in a room you paid hundreds or even thousands of dollars to be in, surrounded by people you know can help your career...if you'd only introduce yourself?
I was at the Seattle Interactive Conference sitting waiting for a session to start, and my eye was caught by the woman next to me, who made a frustrated sound at her phone's screen, then threw it in her purse. I smiled at her with a feeling of recognition.
"I'm trying to make myself stay off my phone and actually talk to people," she said.
"Oh I know how that is," I said, phone in hand. "It's so hard."
"Where are you in from?" she asked, and from there we had a lovely conversation. That was Paulette Perhach, a writer. I was a marketing CEO, in need of a writer.
Since then, she's become part of the Remix team, solving a problem for us, writing and designing whatever we need. We solved a problem for her, as it turned out one of her anchor clients had recently moved jobs.
As our working relationship has evolved, we'll send each other messages saying, "I'm so glad I put my phone down and met you!"
The thing about being on your phone is that you don't know who or what you're missing. That spark that used to happen on elevators or at bus stops is now cold silence.
In day-to-day life, you can do whatever works for you. But when you have paid to be around the people you are around, and to have the access to the connections you could be making, you should force yourself to put your phone down and make conversations happen.
Sure, those can also be the most awkward times, because there's that pressure to connect. Everyone knows you're there to meet, and that somehow makes it harder, less natural.
We want you to make those great connections at conferences you're attending, the kind that have worked out so well for us, so here's the official Remix guide to talking to strangers at conferences.
Where to meet people:
One of the worst parts about starting to talk to people is wondering when and how you'll end it. That's why striking up a conversation in line works so well. The end of the line is the natural end to your conversation. "Well," you can say at the end of the buffet, "enjoy your breadsticks!"
Before a session
Similar to the line, the pre-session chat has a time limit. There's also an added bonus. If you're in a session of many to choose from, you have that particular thing in common. You're not stuck with that opener from Ralph Wiggum:
When you're waiting for a session, you can say, "Do you work in [topic of session]?" And you're off and running with a conversation.
When exiting the bar
The best place to stand in a mingle room with drinks is where people exit the bar. They've got their drink in hand and they're entering the arena of networking, where they're just as afraid of getting eaten alive as anyone else. A friendly smile and a hello right there will help them do what they're there to do anyway.
The best part is these mini-conversations can lead to repeated connections later at the conference. You've broken the ice to perhaps sit next to this person if you see them at another session, or invite them to your table if you see them looking for a place to sit.
Where not to meet people
Think about the other person's experience and context when they meet you. You want them to be non-stressed, comfortable, and focused.
Right before (or right after) they're speaking at an event
If someone's a speaker within half an hour of their event, there's probably going to be some little last-minute thing they've got to handle. Even if there's not, you'll have to contend with their speaking jitters. It's just not a good time all around, so wait to speak to them later.
After their talk, they'll need a second to breathe before diving into the crowd. You don't want to be the first person that rushes them.
When they arrive at the venuePeople arriving are discombobulated and nervous. Let people get a feel for the room and get comfortable before you try to chat.
What to Say
People liked to be asked for their opinion or their knowledge, so that can be a place to start.
- Who's one person I should see?
- Have you learned anything really interesting so far?
- Any booths I should stop by?
How to talk to people who intimidate you:
It can feel weird to go up to someone you really admire, but if you fanboy, it's only going to be worse. This feels really awkward for them.
- Tell them the story of how you're connected. How has their work affected you?
- Thank them for their work. Saying "thank you for your work" comes off as so much more genuine than just yelling, "I love you!"
- Ask for one small thing moving forward. Can you message them on Twitter or ask them a question over email next week?
How to Stop Talking
Ok, you want to leave, now what? The best formula for getting out of there is a nice compliment about meeting the person, a way you'd like to follow up, and a handshake.
"Thanks so much for recommending that speaker, I'll check her out. Do you have a card so I can follow you on Twitter?" Shake and boom, bye! No big deal.
The most important thing to remember is that you never know where it will lead. You have to be willing to risk a few slightly awkward encounters to get the opportunity that might just take you to the next level, aka, the reason you came to the conference.