Okay, so lets just be honest about this. Unless you’re a really outgoing type of person who flawlessly handles every social situation - you’ve probably had some anxiety about attending a meetup or conference in the past. Perhaps you’re experiencing it right now.

This sucks!

Attending meetups and conferences, or any other events of this nature should be an awesome experience. You get to meet like-minded people who have experienced the same things as you, or you can talk directly to domain experts - leaders in their field.

I think going to meetups is brilliant, and I want to try and make it a less scary experience with some tips I’ve picked up.

Make it about them

Walking up to a stranger and talking about yourself is, well, weird. More importantly, it’s really off-putting for the other person. They don’t get anything from it and it immediately puts them on the defensive. Imagine a stranger walking up to you and telling you about their idea for a start up thats, “like, basically a mix between Uber and SpaceX, and it’s already got funding and I’m, like, just so passionate about it ever since my I had a bad taxi ride this one time…”, blah, blah, blah. If someone comes up to me like that, I’m immediately looking for the exit signs.

A better approach is to simply ask the other person why they’re at the event. This does a few things for us:

  • It puts the ball in their court, so we can breathe easy for a minute.
  • It allows the other person an opportunity to talk as much or as little as they feel comfortable, without putting them on the spot.
  • Most people are (perhaps surprisingly) more comfortable talking about themselves.
  • We get to learn a bit about the person we’re talking to, which gives us a great starting place for further conversation.

I’m not saying we should point blank refuse to talk about ourselves (in fact, quite the opposite - as you’ll see in a bit) - but allowing the other person to talk about themselves to begin with is a great way to start a conversation.

Talk to the sponsors/organisers/speakers

This is one of my favourites. These are the folks who are literally running the show. They have a vested interest in the event going down well and so they are way more likely to be accommodating to new people.

The folks running these events typically know most of the attendees, so asking them to introduce you to someone you haven’t quite built up the courage to go and talk to directly is a viable option.

Talking to speakers at conferences has opened so many doors for me, I’ve been able to talk to (and sometimes have a beer with) some amazing people, all because I asked a speaker or event organiser if they could introduce me to someone interesting.

Mind the gap

I picked this one up from some folks I met at a recent conference in Cardiff (BlueConf 2019, I may do a blog post about it soon). When I was talking to some people at the social event in the evening, they kept mentioning that we had to keep the ‘semi circle’. After a little while I asked what this meant, and they explained that a really great way of bringing outsiders into the conversation was to simply leave a gap for them when talking in a group.

Leaving a gap meant that people who could overhear our conversation, or people who were simply walking by, had an opportunity to join the group without feeling like they were butting into our conversation.

Keep an eye out for these openings when you see groups of people talking together at an event; and next time you’re at a conference and you’ve bravely started a conversation with some folks, keep in mind that you can leave a gap for some new people to join in.

Go to the social

Talking of socials, almost every meetup/conference runs some kind of networking or social event. You should totally make use of this!

This is the perfect environment to go and network with people because everyone there is expecting people to come up and talk to them.

Typically these social events are much more relaxed than the main event, so you can ease up a little bit and let your hair down.

(PS. Event organisers will often supply food and drink at these socials too, which is a huge bonus!)

Be prepared to talk about yourself

Remember tip #1? Well imagine you’re on the receiving end of it and you have no idea how to answer the question, “So, what do you do for a living?”.

Sometimes the personal questions can catch you off guard, so have a think about how you want to answer before you get to the event.

Be honest

This kind of goes hand in hand with the previous tip, but it’s worth mentioning it on its own. Seriously, don’t try to make things up to try and impress people. Regardless of how well you think you’re doing, people can smell bullshit from a mile away.

If someone asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, just be honest! Trust me, the person asking the question will appreciate that a lot more than your waffly answer that you’re trying to make up as you go along.

Networking doesn’t stop at the end of the night

Okay, this is probably my second favourite tip. You’ve got through the event, you’ve spoken to some awesome people who share similar interests to you, you’ve shared some horror stories from work and you’ve generally had a good time. The best news? The fun doesn’t have to stop there!

Most people have some kind of professional facing social media account (Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc) that you can use to follow them. Ask them if they have a blog that you can go check out, or failing that, any blogs that they could recommend to you.

Chances are, if you start following these folks, you’ll begin to meet other people online who have the exact same interests (professionally or otherwise).

BONUS: Ask how you can help

If you want to be one of the most popular people in the room (especially if the room contains a lot of open source contributors), ask how you can help people. I guarantee someone will be having an issue in some way, shape or form that you can help with.

Sure, you may not be able to solve the issue for them, but simply asking if someone needs help can really go a long way.

Good night!

We’ve met some new people, we’ve had a few drinks and shared some laughs. Now it’s time to go back to work and start planning the next event we’d like to attend.

If you’ve got any tips that you like to employ at these kinds of events, feel free to share them with me on Twitter.

Or perhaps you’re an event organiser and you’d like to know how to make your event more accessible to people who may be anxious about attending. If so, again, give me a shout on Twitter - maybe I’ll do a follow up post about that.

Thanks for reading!