An introverts guide to driving social interaction – the conference edition

So I am just off the largest conference of the season for my industry.  Four days, 9,000 attendees, 3 keynotes, 5 hotels in Vegas and a whole lot of networking.  Basically my nightmare, so this post is all about keeping the spirit fit and healthy in an environment that may be a bit trying to you.

Simply put, I am not good with social interaction with folks I don’t know.

There, I said it.  I can present/lecture to the largest of groups without hesitation but put me in a room with 20 or so people I don’t know and say ‘go socialize’ and I want to crawl out of my skin….literally.  I am not socially awkward but all of the networking is taxing.

Years ago, I had a supervisor that I highly respect and who was incredibly gregarious.  When he walked in a room, everyone knew it in all of the right ways.  I would observe him work a room of any size in absolute awe.  After a conference about ten years ago, I asked him how he worked the room with such ease.  I have never forgotten his response;

Andrew – two people can walk into a group of people with the same goals; total number of people to meet, conversations to have or leads to generate.  At the end of the evening, one leaves the event absolutely exhausted.  The other leaves so amped up they are ready to run a marathon.  Either way, both have accomplished the same result.”

Needless to say, he fell in to the group that walks away charged up.  I on the other hand, find the interactions beyond exhausting.  His analogy was completely true though, some people feed off of the energy, others are fed upon.  Throughout the years of working conferences/events/dinner parties, I have developed a strategy to feed rather than be fed on.

Let me put this out there, I suck at initiating small talk.

I innately believe that the vast majority of people would have no reason to actually want to talk to me as opposed to the business/product I represent.  If I were to step back from the situation, I would probably come to the conclusion that my logic is flawed but it is deeply rooted in who I am.  Therefore I feel the need to compensate and create opportunities for people to create conversations around me.  Most recently that came in the way of #snowleopardpants, but as much as I would like to wear them every day (not), I have to have other ways to drive conversation.

For me, it is socks and cuff links.

image

I wear cuff links that mean something to me and socks that will drive conversation.  In the above picture, each pair of cuff links represents something that means something in my life (even the $$ cuff links as I represent a software system that maximizes revenue).  Eagle Scout, Star Wars fanatic, Disney fanatic, Black Belt, Angels Fan and husband to a Breast Cancer Survivor.  They all define me…..or at least explain me.

And each pair has driven numerous conversations.  Most recently, I had a Regional Manager comment on my ribbon cuff links (my favorite and least favorite in the same breath).  A Regional Manager who was a survivor herself, conquered breast cancer, inspired others and been an inspiration to hundreds (and who is now evidently Facebook BFFs with my wife).  It was a conversation I never would have had without a trigger point.  My cufflinks are often my trigger point.

My socks are a bit more frivolous.   I used to be a guy who only wore plain socks.  Black or brown, that was it.  You never had to worry about a match and to someone who is often up at 4 AM to head to the airport, not having an issue finding a match appealed to me, until recently.

I now own probably 20 pairs of sock that are not interchangeable.  US Flag socks, TX Flag socks, colorful socks, Star Wars socks, Ninja socks, Nerd socks (a personal favorite of mine), amongst others.  My socks have driven at least as many conversations as my cuff links.  The point?

If you have trouble starting a conversation, incorporate something with you that can.

So my tip for the day for all of you Road Warriors?  Use what you bring with you to drive the results you ultimately want.  Remember, the spirit is just as important (if not more so), than the body and if you are constantly doing something that taxes your spirit, eventually you will shut down.  So what is your road block?  What is it that you have to muscle through in your day to day interactions?  Identify it, strategize around it and implement a plan for conquering it.  For me it is cuff links and socks.  What is it for you?

So for all of my American readers out there, enjoy the holiday weekend and I hop to see you on the road.

One thought on “An introverts guide to driving social interaction – the conference edition”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s