4 THINGS TO DO WHEN FACING A CONFERENCE ALONE

Took this beautiful picture yesterday when we had a “break”. A shuttle picked us up at the hotel for a tour at this villa, where the Norwegian constitution was written, 17th of May 1814. It was special to see the old interior and secret corridors inside the walls. When we came to this spot I had to snap a shot. Would it not be nice to sit in that chair beside that window, with a view and write a story? 

Good morning, people! I packed my bag Monday evening after a weekend spent at my in-laws’, and now I am off on a job trip. Conferences seem to have become a part of my professional life. At least every now and then. Before heading for a hearty breakfast to a wonderful view of this grand lake – I decided to share a bit of tips and tricks of what we can do when being at conferences by ourselves. I have brought my own coffee brewer with me and at the moment I have bunkered up in my bed with a cup of coffee. A winter wonderland is forming right outside the window and the level of coziness is high! So let’s dig into the topic of today.

4 Things to Do When Facing a Conference Alone

Or in fact, whenever you are a newbie to a social place. It can be literally awful, stomach flipping and we may loathe it, while others enjoy it – to have to start from scratch, in an environment where we know absolutely nobody. It feels just like first day of school, or when we moved to that new neighborhood all over again. After facing this situation quite a few times last lately, I decided to share what I went through and how to overcome the ugly feeling. Perhaps how this can benefit us as writers.

A year ago going to conferences were a routine every single month. Usually I kept my eyes shut before opening them to browse the file of papers my boss just had slid across the table in my office room. I would quickly throw a glance over the long lists of names, the people invited and those who had accepted to the invitation of the conference. Fairly seldom was a name written which I was familiar with. And I did dislike it as I knew everybody tended to be over their forties/fifties with a long experience within the business area, meaning they already have their mingling groups and friends among each other.

I would be the newcomer.

After once finding myself completely on my own as every coworker was either busy or not attending, I locked myself into a restroom. Here I brought up my phone to desperately google ”What to do when being at a conference alone.” Do I need to mention that even I found the scenario pathetic? Yes, indeed I did. But what could I do in my desperation? I tried to take my time, sitting on the top of the closed seat to just fold my legs and hope there was no line outside waiting for me to come out of there. Because I feared standing there outside all alone, appearing like the black swan nobody wants to be around. It was a desperate moment, really. And awful.

Now, I will tell you how I coped with this and how the evening turned out great.

1. Get Out There

After a while, I figured that I am an adult now and just have got to pull myself together. After all, I do have a company to represent and how bad would it sound if I dared confessing that I had locked myself in the ladies to avoid social awkwardness? Now, I never did say anything but I am sure my boss would not be too happy about it. Not to mention letting myself down. In the end of the day, I do believe in the motto of growing a little bit each day. Those days when I know I have stepped out of my comfort zone are the ones I cherish the most and can be proud of myself. I happened to want that outcome out of this event as well.

One thing to realize is that even if it seems as if everybody knows someone – truth is that they do not. Perhaps they all have just been able to join a group faster than us. Honestly, there are many people attending who also do not know a single soul. Even if they happen to be elder than us, many people in their forties and fifties also change career path. And what better opportunity to befriend new people within the industry than sending them straight to a social conference? Well, that is how many bosses think.

Typically there are name tags on each person, informing both the name and what company they come from. Here we can just go straight to a group and join, listen and present ourselves. Normally there will be a discussion regarding the companies we come from, our positions and what we do. We need to be sure to have a whole package with business cards with us, as chances are high we will have to exchange some. It does appear more pro to in fact be ready with a card. If absolute not; we can ask for their card and assure them we will contact them right away when situation lets us. Another case can be to find each other on LinkedIn and add one another. That way we can make sure to remain connected.

2. Champagne and Sweets

What drinks and pastries set on tables will differ from conferences to conferences. But, many times they will serve champagne and sweets. If we still stand somewhere alone, or the group of people somehow has dissolved into each way and we are left standing there alone – we can still find a new group. Maybe we can take a deep breath and walk straight towards a group, or we go to the table serving food.

Typically people will surround it, throw a joke about the food or help each other out with grabbing napkins for the cookie crumbles. Another opportunity laid out for us to be able to more smoothly and ”spontaneously” slip in to recommend that a certain cookie there is really good (yes, we have never tasted it), and suddenly a conversation is set. Out of nowhere, the person we are talking to is missing to its’ group. Either way, one from its’ group will look for him/her and join the two of us. Or the best, we follow the person to its’ group and are automatically introduced. ”Hey folks, I just met *blabla* from *blabla*. The person does this and that and this is unique,” and immediately they are all interested in us and what we have to say.

I know it can be hard to ”just go over there” to these randoms. I really do. But we have to if we want to socialize. If our intention simply is getting out information from the lectures, then feel no need but to plop down on a nearby coach to enjoy a drink. However, many of us are specifically sent to mingle and learn knew people, new business strategies and get inside information from other companies. By opening our mouths and get into a conversation with a person, well, it does help.

When standing there alone, we can ask ourselves some questions. Like, what is the worst thing that can happen? Chances that we will be dismissed and totally ignored are small. Yet if they so happen, we will not die. Unless we die, is there really anything to fear? – Appear like a fool, being all alone? Well, we will not end up talking to anybody unless we make an effort, will we? But to emphasize the truth. People are too busy with themselves, many of them panicking just like us – that causes them to not even get a moment to examine us with an analysis.

I think the best approach (yes, no surprise) is to not think, just do. Just walk up to a group and introduce ourselves. Even if they are in an eager chat, be cocky enough and speak up as we promptly take that step between two persons, reach out our hand decisively to one of them and present ourselves. If we happen to know of the topic we may even just join in, even show off our fake laughter to charm our rather ballsy motion. There are tons of ways to enter a conversation, but mine is typically to pick one person and slowly expand to more. When I enter a group just right away, I do find it somewhat more difficult to really engage in a chat as I know nothing of how people are related among each other. While when hanging out with a single or two persons, they tend to always introduce someone when passing by someone. So, an advice – pick a person and go for it!

3. Do NOT Do This!

I know the temptation of picking up the phone. Letting our finger browse and browse, we pretend being totally busy and occupied as the popular soul we are. What we do not think of is how this creates a barrier surrounding us. Like a glassy cloud nobody can enter. A bubble. When we are this imbibed into whatever goes on in social media, we can take a step back and wonder how we look like from an objective eye. If someone were to check us out, probably we look like someone busy and occupied – just as we want.

If we ourselves would stand there and two persons in the room are standing with three metres away from each other. One of them sipping a glass of champagne (or water for that matter. I will not market alcohol) and views over the room with scanning eyes, and then we have the one totally into its’ phone. Which one would we pick to approach? I can tell by my own words, that if I would approach the one with a phone, it may be if he or she wore a watch and I happened to wonder what time it was – or, if she or he would turn out to be Sophia Loren. Otherwise, I am 100% we all would go to this alone observing person and try with an opening phrase. Simply because that person appears more approachable.

Another great DON’T! Is the alcohol part. Conferences tend to serve not only champagne, but an awful amount of wine to dinner and then I shall not mention the tables filled with Baileys, Whiskey and Grappa when leaving the dining restaurant to head for the bar/club on another floor. So, have in mind to take it easy with the drinks. Nothing can be worse than waking up the following morning with a great headache, joined by anxiety over what happened yesterday. Perhaps even what we vaguely can remember. So, remember that this is a situation where we in some way present ourselves and the company we work for.

Another thing can be to simply not just hang out only with the people we do know. We never expand our network unless we dare interacting with new people. So another no-no can be to not be open and invite new people inside our group. Remember that one day we might be or we may have been that sole person. Would it not be nice to be approached and invited to join a group of people? I personally think it is one of the nicest things a person can do. That person will remember us for doing this, and who knows when this person can be there for our aid?

4. Where To Sit At Dinner

We all know the easy choice. We find a familiar face and slip down on the empty chair next to it to surely set that we will have a person to talk to. As much as this can help us secure a pleasant evening, making sure to get to know new people means sitting at a random table. Not fully random, but if we have been stalky beforehand (mening that when we received the guest lists – we googled the faces of the names behind), we know which one to ”spontaneously” end up beside. Quite manipulative but it works. How we accidentally end up with a new friend or future business college while it was completely a strategic move from our side.

Sitting down beside strangers at a table is according to my opinion even easier than joining a group of people/reaching out to strangers. Mostly because everybody MUST sit down and there are limited chairs at each table. Also, it is unlikely that a company around a table would take their stuff and stand up to swift table. It simply rarely happens. In a way, we appear by the table in the rush as everybody frantically looks for seats, and we sit down at the one we please. Also, being alone or a couple, it helps being a smaller number as it is easier to get seats at the ”best” tables, referring to those in the centre towards the front. Another reason to straight away head for the ones in the centre is because those tables ALWAYS fill. Everybody wants to sit there, thereof if we so happen to be the first one arriving there – people will join eventually.

It is typically during dinner that I befriend most people. Maybe it has to do with most of the guests’ intake of wine, but really, people opens up and suddenly it feels as if we all have known each other for ages. Some hold speeches and in between it seems to be a common topic to discuss what the person has stated. Also to comment on the cuisine served and discuss wine. Of course, conferences are various, but to have a little knowledge of wine, the business in general and the speech holders, can be an advice as well. At least for me, as a youngster to be able to come with a good reply when the fifty year olds debate on wether the Italian Amarone is heavier in taste than a sweet Portuguese Porto. Sí, I do have my fair experience – haha, I try.

My Previous Experience

During that time in the restroom I went out. I had called my partner and revealed that I despised standing there alone while having nobody to talk to. Whenever I did meet up with someone, the person seemed incompetent of social skills and maintaining a conversation. I would over and over again be left alone and have to start over, feeling like I screamed desperately. So at the end I headed towards the wardrobe, upper body hanging over the counter in my eager to hide from people maybe being able to recognize my escape from this real estate conference. As I had my card pressed at the wooden counter, my fingertips pushing it hard enough to pale and my searching gaze for a staff member who could hand me my jacket – I was approached by a guy.

He came with a glass of champagnen to me (yes, never accept a drink from a person without having eyes on it from start, ladies. And yes it is awful that I in soon 2019 need to say that). I accepted it but never drank from it, pretended sipping. It turned out that he was also there alone and suddenly I ended up having quite a laughter with this young man. Folks wondering what the two of us found hilarious would come from around to join us, and suddenly ”I” had built up a little gang of new friends. So this was fun. When the staff member finally passed me and held his hand out to take my jacket card, I snatched it back to me and shook my head to say that I had changed my mind. He smiled, I did too and off I was to join the conference at dinner.

I did have fun. It was actually the best conference when I look back. I did not share table with this gang, as I was too excited to get to know more people now when I was in the mood. This led me to end up at an ambitious table, filled with the elite from Norway’s real estate life (if I can claim this without sounding too poshy). We laughed so much throughout the night and at the end of it when my boyfriend picked me up, I sighed and told him all about how strange I found it. It had all begun with me, desperately locked inside a bathroom and me ending up mingling and having fun with tons of new people. What a day, and night.

To Sum Up

Summering my advice coming from me, I will divide this:

  • Do not pick up your phone to ”escape” the scenario.
  • Do not drink too much. Getting wasted is a big No-No. Depending on culture, at least do not get wasted too early.
  • Do not underestimate the fact that there are more people there not knowing a bloody soul.
  • Smile! I did not mention this but really, a smiling person is more approachable.
  • Speak up and present yourself.
  • Join a group.
  • Read one’s nametag and ask questions.
  • Mingle at the food table!
  • Do research beforehand and know what faces to look for.

Now, off we go! I will see if I find someone to talk to at the breakfast buffet and tomorrow my boyfriend picks me up for a trip abroad, to the capital of Sweden. What a lovely weekend it will be.

Love, Emelena

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