Due to popular demand, I have composed a follow-up post to my Convention Networking article:
How to get the most out of a convention when you are painfully shy.
Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes or magic bullets or secret codes that can take you from quaking introvert to gregarious socialite in three easy steps. However, I think I can supply some quick hints and tips, plus some long term solutions that really can help ease social anxieties. Having been a shy introvert (who sometimes still has attacks of OH MY GOD I’M SUCH A FAKE AND EVERYONE’S GOING TO FIND OUT!) I think I can give some pointers on how to make the whole con experience bearable, fun, and worthwhile.
Suggestions for coping with being ALL BY YOURSELF at a con:
1) Use the internet before you go. There are quite a few writer’s forums and writer’s blogs online, and becoming somewhat active in a few of them can give you a “preset” supply of people with whom you are comfortable. You don’t have to spend hours and hours online, but if you can set aside even 15 minutes a day or so to get to know people in an online setting, that will go a long way toward breaking the ice when the time comes to meet them in the real world. In writer’s communities that are mostly sf/f, there will often be some sort of conversation concerning who is planning to attend such-and-such convention. Speak up, and then try to make some sort of arrangement to meet.
2) If you arrive at the con and still know no one and have no pre-set arrangement to meet anyone, go through the dealer’s room and the art show, attend some panels, and go to the con suite. While you are doing this, make an effort to look around at other people in your vicinity. Look for people who are also roaming on their own. Smile. Be friendly. You’ll be surprised at how many people will smile and ‘be friendly’ right back atcha, especially since they are probably feeling just as lost as you are. If you manage to work up the nerve to actually speak, you could even say something like, “This is my first WorldCon. It’s a bit overwhelming, isn’t it!” Or, “As many times as I’ve been to cons, I still get overwhelmed by all of the people!” Conversation will most likely ensue.
3) Most pros/semi-pros/regular con-goers are actually pretty darn nice. If you see a name on a badge that you recognize because you read something they wrote, muster up as much courage as you can to say this one sentence:
“I liked your story/book/blog.”
At this point you will have passed the bronze level of the initiation, and the person will then whisper in your ear the clue to get to the silver level…
Okay, not quite. But, the person will likely respond with a smile and a thank you. If they then engage you in conversation, then respond appropriately, keeping in mind the suggestions laid out in the “How to make friends” section of my previous article. If they merely smile and thank you and do not engage you in conversation, then move on. But don’t assume that it was a wasted effort, because this person–and any people who were with them–will now have your face and name in their consciousness. Do this often enough and pretty soon there will be a fairly decent number of people who have a clue who you are, with little conversational effort involved.
4) Smile. Be friendly. If you look like you’re miserably lonely, very few people are going to want to hang out with you for fear of catching your misery. Even if you really are miserably lonely, don’t let it show! Pretend that you’re having the time of your life. Fake it! If you have to, tell yourself the whole thing is a big game. (This ties in to my advice of, “If you want to be liked, you need to be likeable.”)
So now, let’s assume you’ve managed to find someone to talk to. At this point the hardest thing for you to do will be to NOT cling desperately to this benevolent person who has displayed friendliness to you. There is no better way to turn friendliness into, “Oh dear god help me shed this leech!” than to permanently attach yourself to this person. Go read #4 of my networking article. Really, you have to leave. Even if it’s only for an hour or so, you still need to send the message that you have the ability to not be a stalker/clinger.
Try to create hookups before you go.
Realize that there will be others who are just as lost as you, and look for them.
Sincere compliments are darn near always appreciated.
Don’t stick like glue to someone who has allowed you into their fold.
Now, here are some possible long term solutions to crippling shyness:
1) Use the internet some more. Join absolutewrite.com. Read makinglight, or Whatever, or any of the many dozens of excellent blogs that have rich comment sections. Make comments when appropriate. (i.e. join the party.)
2) Take an acting class. No, really! It’s a great way to break through a fear of speaking up in front of others. It also can give you the tools to “fake” being outgoing. (Which is basically what I did for ages, then one day I realized that I wasn’t faking it anymore…for the most part.)
3) Take a martial art. I can’t say enough how much this will do for your self-esteem, self-confidence, and overall fitness. Plus, it’s a great way to meet people!
A final note: Just accept that at some point you will be absolutely convinced that you have made an utter ass of yourself. You may even be right. First off, never underestimate the power of a sincere apology: “I think I just made an ass of myself, and I apologize.” Or: “I truly did not mean that the way it came out. I’m so sorry.” Or something in that general vein. If an apology is not possible/appropriate, extricate yourself from the situation and go somewhere else for a while, then take a deep breath, shake it off, and get over it. It’s not the end of the world. I promise. Now go back to having fun.