Attendees of the Big Hearted Business (un)Conference 2014 lining up outside The Regal Ballroom in Northcote, Melbourne.
Attendees of the Big Hearted Business (un)Conference 2014 lining up outside The Regal Ballroom in Northcote, Melbourne.

Connecting in a crowd

How an introvert enjoyed spending an entire weekend with 500 strangers

I’m nervous. It’s early in the morning and I’m standing on the footpath outside The Regal Ballroom in Northcote, Melbourne. There are a few groups of people standing around chatting and nursing coffees in the morning chill. A woman arrives and locks her bike up. A meandering line starts to form in both directions away from the doors. There are a few other people who appear to have come alone. A girl standing opposite me and I exchange tentative smiles but neither of us starts a conversation. Is this going to be the longest two days of my life? Why didn’t I convince a buddy to buy a ticket?

We’re all waiting for the start of the Big Hearted Business (un)Conference 2014. Passion project of lovely lady and songstress Clare Bowditch, it is a two day jamboree of speakers designed to inspire, excite and educate creatives about business and business people about creativity. Sounds pretty great, right? And it is. Which is why I bought a ticket. But on the first morning, after a long week at the office, the idea of spending two whole days with 500 strangers was about as appealing as a fart in a lift.

You see, I tend towards the introverted end of the spectrum, which is to say I gain energy from solitude and reflection and deplete it with social interaction. Networking you say? Oh no thank you, I’ll just be over here poking pins in my eyes. If this reaction is familiar, you too may be quite introverted my friend. Don’t worry, it’s not itchy or contagious, it just means you probably like hanging out solo on a regular basis. And besides, who wouldn’t want to hang out with themselves if they were you? You’re awesome.

An early breakfast before day two of the Big Hearted Business (un)Conference 2014.

The downside to being introverted is that our hermit tendencies can limit our opportunities to connect with other people, who may also be awesome. When you’re at an event like the Big Hearted Business (un)Conference, chances are even higher than usual that the people in the room are interesting (and interested) and doing great things. I didn’t want to miss my chance to meet them! And you know what? By the end of the weekend I had connected with at least ten very awesome people. Introvert high five! This is my introvert’s survival guide to connecting in a crowd.

Go on your own

Look, this can feel a bit scary but if you take a friend, it’s just too tempting to talk to them instead of making connections with other people. If this seems like a bit too much, bring a friend but split up for the morning or afternoon. Sit next to someone else.

Let people come to you

On the morning of day two of the (un)conference, I fixed myself a tea, found a bit of spare floor-space and stood there taking in the scene. This felt a bit weird and a big part of me wanted to scuttle to a seat and just browse the program (because it wouldn’t judge me). But within minutes, someone had approached me to have a conversation. I repeated this move during several of the breaks and it worked every-time, so it’s basically magic. Find a bit of space and let others come to you. What’s cool about it is that the people who seek you out are the ones who are also looking to make new connections. Neat.

Arrive early and stick around between and after the program sessions

This is pretty self-explanatory. People can’t really chat to you during conference sessions. All the sweet connecting happens in between other stuff. Arrive early. Loiter in the lobby. Stick around for lunch. Stay for drinks. I was feeling pretty overstimulated by Sunday night and was tempted to head towards my home cave but I stuck around for a drink. I spotted someone else hanging out on the edge of the crowd, we bonded over feeling overwhelmed and ended up having a lovely conversation. I’m going to a drawing class that she is putting on for the very first time next month. My slippers never put on drawing classes so I’m glad I wasn’t at home with them instead.

Do you tend towards the introverted end of the spectrum? How do you connect in a crowd?  Join the conversation

18 May, 2014

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