Networking at Search Marketing Conferences: 3 Tips for the Painfully Shy

Steve Jobs Delivers Keynote Speech At Macworld Conference & Expo
Steve Jobs Delivers Keynote Speech At Macworld Conference & Expo

Photo by David Paul Morris


‘Tis the season… for search marketing conferences, that is.

I have several colleagues who just returned from SMX West (and learned some lessons in search marketing). I myself just returned from SEMpdx’s SearchFest 2012, and there are many more conferences coming up this year – so many that I won’t even try to list all of them here.

But it’s not just agency-level search marketing pros that attend these conferences. There are also plenty of business owners from numerous industries, as well as employees who are (sometimes suddenly and without warning) put in charge of the company website and tasked with “doing that SEO thing.”

These conferences are a great place to learn and network no matter what your role in your business is – but for some of us, networking is not all that easy.

Take me, for example.

A Visitor From Planet Bashful

You guessed it – I’m as shy as they come.

When I walk into those rooms filled with strangers all grouped up and chatting amicably, I don’t know what to do or say. I feel awkward and intimidated. Afflicted with life-long introversion, my lack of social ease always leaves me feeling like I just came from some alien planet and don’t know the language or culture.

If this sounds vaguely familiar to you – or you’ve been sitting there saying “Yeah, that’s me too!” then I’ve got some good news for you: you’re not alone in the universe.

I present to you my real-world tested and proven antidote for shyness.

The 3-Step Shyness Cure

Other shy people I’ve talked to typically report the same thing when they’re in social situations: they’re uncomfortable, and they don’t know what to say.

Moreover, they don’t know how to “break the ice” and start a conversation or approach one of those groups – here are my suggestions. Feel free to add your own in the comments below.

Tip #1: Strangers Are Friends…

…that you haven’t met yet.

Before you roll your eyes or think that’s just too cliche or cutesy to be of help, stop and think about this: if you have even just one friend on this planet, that friend was once a complete stranger to you.

Sure, this one tip all by itself may not be enough to cure your shyness and make you able to easily stride right up to folks with complete confidence; but at the very least you should be nodding in agreement that even your best friend was someone you once didn’t know existed.

Just stop for a moment and imagine yourself walking into a room where people are clustered in groups. Imagine surveying all those people and saying to yourself, “I wonder which one of these people is going to end up becoming a good friend of mine? – someone I’ll know for years to come…  we’ll laugh and share good times and my life will be far better for knowing this person.”

If you were to fully and completely embrace such a mindset, that alone could go a long way to making it much easier for you to meet new people.

Not enough?

Tip #2: Curiosity Kills…

…no, not the cat. Shyness.

If we could listen in on the soundtrack in your head when you’re feeling shy or socially awkward, I bet it would go something like this:

“I don’t like this.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Why is this always so hard?”
“I bet my hair looks funny and I have some romaine lettuce stuck in my teeth.”

Or some variation on those themes, right? So my question is, what’s the common denominator in all of those kinds of internal dialogue? I can wait, go ahead and look at them again: did you figure it out?

They’re all communications with yourself… about you. You You YOU!

Tip #2 is stop focusing on yourself, and be curious about other people!

Genuinely curious. Intensely curious.

Everyone has a story, and most of them are quite interesting if you’re willing to listen. In most group settings – like a search marketing conference – everyone fundamentally has a common background and shared interest. We’re all in business of one kind or another, and we’re all interested in online success.

Ask questions! Where are you from? What’s the name of your business? How long have you been there? Where’s it located? Do you like what you do? What type of products and services do you offer? Is this your first time at XYZ conference? Have you been to any others you like? What do you most hope to get out of this gig, anyway? Have you been impressed with anything you’ve heard so far?

Come on – those questions alone are enough to get you started and keep you going. Have more good questions like these? Share them  in the comments section below.

Tip #3: How To Break The Ice

Yes, shy grasshopper, I have the answer. And I will offer it to you in three levels: beginner, intermediate, and advanced level methods of breaking the ice.

“Hi, my name is David.” (If your name isn’t David, just switch that part up)

Anyone and everyone can do that. Little kids do that. You just forgot that you used to do that. So do it.

“Hi Kim, my name is David.” (If her name isn’t Kim, you should adjust this)
In this case, you’re going to look directly at someone’s name badge (they always pass out name badges at these events), then look them in the eye and use the ice breaker above.

I can hear you now, “What if their name badge is backwards or they don’t have one?” That’s easy; default to the beginner method, or you can harass them in a good-natured manner about their lack of credentials (“What, are you crashing this thing? Where’s your name badge? Security!”).

This one is a real barn-burner, but requires a little forethought and advance planning on your part: find out who’s going to be there, maybe one of the speakers you’d really like to meet, and research them on the internet. Discover what they look like (image search), what they’re about, read their blog, their website, social networking profiles – you get the idea.

When you see them, go up to them and say:

“Hi Kim, my name is David. I was hoping to meet you because I just read your website / latest blog post / recent rant on Facebook, and…” (You fill in the blanks and take it from there).

I told you this one was advanced.

Get Out There & Network Like a Pro

You’re ready to roll.

You see strangers as friends you haven’t met yet.

You’re getting over yourself by being genuinely and intensely curious about what other people have to say and asking them questions.

And, you know how to break the ice.

Go have some fun! But don’t have so much fun socializing and networking that you forget to go to the presentations and workshops. After all, either you or someone else is paying for this dang thing, and you did go to learn, didn’t you?

I thought so. Now go get ’em!

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  1. That’s true! Networking skills are very crucial to build new business relationships in our field, but many of us badly lack this. I would do well in writing an effective business report but when it comes to speaking it directly to clients or strangers, I may falter and probably may not be able to present it the way I want it to be. Thanks David for highlighting this area and sharing the words of courage in your post.

    1. My pleasure, Pradeep – and thanks for your comment. I hope these tips help you when networking and building new business relationships!

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