Business Conferences: A Survival Guide for the Socially Stunted

Being alone at a business conference is the worst. Actually, just being at a business conference is the worst. There are strangers everywhere–and they’re trying to communicate with me!! (Activate invisibility cloak.)

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(Please, don’t make me socialize.)

I’ve devised some strategies to survive these business/bonding fests where everyone wants to “get to know you,” and “can’t wait to hear about your experiences.” I’d rather be boiled in mayonnaise. Anyway, if you’re socially stunted, as I am, you might appreciate these business conference survival tips.

No eye contact: There are no other words that strike fear into the heart of an introvert than the phrase, “Team Building Exercise.” I’d rather hear, “Mandatory rabies vaccinations,” or “Now let’s go around the room and read the zoning ordinances!” Team building should be banned, and as long as you pretend you can’t see what’s going on, no one will pick you for their team. Just like dodgeball at elementary school. Thanks for that bad memory, business conference.

Act busy: During the meetings, friends and coworkers sit together, leaving the lonely losers (like myself) sitting at the end of a table, trying to not look stupid. That’s when I open my laptop and look extremely focused. But instead of actually doing anything important, I’ll be writing a blog, a humor column, or write down funny observations about the people around me. For instance, did you know mullet/poodle hair is a thing again? I did not know that.

Forget your toothbrush: This was unintentional, but I was in a place where the general store closed at 8 p.m., and didn’t open until after my morning meetings started, so I made a really rank first impression on several unsuspecting people. By the end of the first day, no one wanted to talk to me. Mission accomplished.

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(Someone even offered me a tooth-cleaning dog biscuit.)

Wear headphones: Especially if you’re attending a meeting by yourself, finding a group of people to sit with is a daunting task. Yeah, breakfast is free, but you have to sit with a bunch of strangers getting all up in your business. By wearing headphones attached to your iPhone, you can gesture that you’re on an important conference call, and there’s really nothing you can do. Sorry.

Practice conversation starters: If the conference organizer confiscates your headphones, you’ll have to talk to the people around you. I’ve learned the art of conversation is dead. Mumbling through small talk is excruciating. I asked a fellow attendee, “What’s the biggest issue facing your city?” and it must have translated to “Have you kicked any kittens lately?” Because she grabbed her plate of lukewarm pancakes and sausage–and moved to another table.

Go With Confidence: No one knows you’re a bubbling hive of insecurity. Maybe make an effort to act like a social being. Pretend you’re trying out for the role of the confident business woman. Try not to laugh when people believe you.

Print this up, place it in your daily planner, and when you’re at your next week-long conference, you’ll have a few suggestions to help you survive.

 

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