But what if I'm shy, awkward, feel insecure about my language skills...
I've heard chatty people give advice like: "find someone in the room that isn't talking with anyone else". Shy people like me know that is bogus! We will be both standing there looking at each other, not knowing what to say. Not fun!
There are some easy things you can do without becoming someone else, or spending a lot of time learning new skills to improve your connection ability and confidence.
A conference provides the perfect opportunity to pre-plan some conversations. You can create very useful questions that fit the context of the conference and get a conversation started.
I think about what I'm interested in, and some of the issues I face so that the conversations I start are useful for me, and the other person.
- I'm interested in what inspires and motivates others
- Interdisciplinary technologies
Then I think up some conversations I would be interested in having:
- You work at X. Do you like it? What do you work on? Have you always worked in that area?/What other things have you worked on? Is this a good area for someone like me to consider entering? Do you have a graduate degree? Why/why not? Do you think it would be to your advantage to have more schooling in this area?
- I see you are a PhD student. Wow. How did you decide that you really wanted to get a PhD? What is your research area? What about your research do you find the most interesting? What about the program is different than you thought before you started? How did you pick your school/program/adviser?
- Did you go to the talk on Bioinformatics? I missed it - I had volunteer duties. Do you know anyone that went to the talk? What did you do instead for the morning session slot? How was that? What did you come away from the other talk with? OR What can you remember about the talk? which of the speakers was the most interesting? If I wanted to work in this area, who do you think I should send e-mail to? Do you think it would be ok to just e-mail her?
Assume that conversation might get derailed, and let it go to new places. You can come back to some of those conversations if you need to.
Getting back to what you were saying about X....
Assume that many of your questions will be reflected back at you. Don't be surprised if you are asked "So what about you?"Conversations often go that way. It is generally a good thing.
TRY to answer more than is asked of you. It gives others something to be genuinely interested in.
How long have you been at U of X?
I've been there 3 years, and I really like it. My classes are
all really small.... And the computing program is closely linked with
the biology department. The winters are cold, which is good for
Turn any piece of information or answer into a broader question: how, why, do you know if that relates to Y, who else works on this, etc?
It is OK to open with something very generic and simple!
Have a line, and a general response that shares something about you. You can give them your response if they don't give you much to go on.
Hi, having fun at the conference?
I think it is great, but I'm kind of overwhelmed. I'm the only one from my
school and I don't really know anyone yet. What about you?
As the conference progresses you will feel more comfortable with your conversations and be able to modify your question set based on what you have gotten out of the conference or really want to gain from the conference.