An Awkward Girl’s Guide to Attending a Professional Conference

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It’s been almost a year since I’ve been blogging here on An Awkward Girl’s Guide. I’ve found that it’s very difficult to produce content all day for work and then come home and do more. What a writer’s dilemma.

I just came back from Content Marketing World, and I’ve been feeling incredibly inspired.

When anything is your job and your passion, it’s easy to get a little cynical and burnt out. Good professional enrichment is essential, and a professional conference is one great way to get on fire for your work again!

As an awkward girl, a professional conference also come with stresses. I hadn’t been to a professional conference since becoming a real-deal professional, so there were some things that worried my awkward little heart. I have some ideas of how to overcome your fears and have a wonderfully productive professional conference experience.

Set Goals for the Conference

When you’re looking through the schedule before you leave, set yourself some goals for the conference. Are you looking to network, or wanting to focus on learning? Is there a resource or provider information you want to come home with? Are you going alone or with some collegues?

All these factors will affect how you proceed with your time at a professional conference. If you’re hoping to network, you’ll be sure to be at those events, but if learning is your main goal, you’ll prioritize the educational sessions. I found in order to get a good seat in a session, I didn’t have much time for the networking breaks. Since I was attending with my bosses and networking wasn’t my goal, that was ok! You can’t possibly do everything at a busy professional conference like Content Marketing World, but having goals made my decisions easy.

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Plan a couple of things at a professional conference that are a little out of your comfort zone. One of my favorite sessions was one that I attended just because I thought it was a good “business choice.” After all that, a session about Return on Investment (which is typically a very math-heavy subject) ended up being wildly helpful and inspirational. I never would have guessed.

In the same line, any time I struck up a conversation with people around me, I was pretty nervous. My awkwardness is not always conducive to small talk. I didn’t ignore my introverted personality entirely at Content Marketing World, but I did find getting out of my comfort zone a little bit improved the experience.

Don’t Ignore a Refresher Session

As a professional writer, I tried not to take too many sessions that were just about the craft of writing. I didn’t want to sit in a lot of sessions where I knew all the concepts already. However, the writing sessions I did attend were incredibly instructional. I took a class about using journalism skills in content, even though I went to school for journalism, and I still found new concepts and ideas I hadn’t thought of before.

I would have missed out on some great learnings if I’d avoided all the sessions that seemed like they were about things I should already know. Not only that, but hearing fellow writers talk about how their careers have progressed and what drives them was incredibly inspiring. I left the conference itching to write and it had been a long time since I’d felt that sort of itch.

2018-09-07_23-55-35_000Gamify the Experience

When you’re nervous, making a professional conference into a game takes some of the pressure off. If you need to make up a point system, do it! There’s plenty of research that gamifying work helps you get it done. If the expo hall makes you nervous, try to get as much swag as possible by talking to and learning about providers.

For me, I gamified getting from session to session because I was nervous about being last in line or entering late. Strategizing my timing helped keep me confident and I always beat the majority of the lunch line (food is a powerful motivator, my friends).

Take Notes

Taking notes helps me feel professional and helps keep me focused. When you’re waking up early and rushing around, it’s easy to feel tired and distracted, especially towards the end of the day. Taking notes helps focus your brain. I find an old school notebook the best for that but plenty of people were typing. I find a computer or my phone just another avenue for distractions.

In the case of Content Marketing World, we had access to presentations after the fact, but I still liked to take my own notes. I also found it helpful to keep an idea list, because I was coming up with tangential ideas throughout the whole event that I’m excited to bring to the office next week.

2018-09-07_23-56-11_000.pngLeave Some Recovery Time in Your Schedule

Running yourself ragged at a professional conference will probably counteract all the learning and inspiration you’re experiencing, especially if you’re an awkward introvert like me. For me, having a quiet breakfast and dinner counteracted a day of running around. I also avoided some of the evening fun activities because resting and taking my introvert time was essential.

If you need some time during the day, you can always find a quiet corner or skip a session block that you find less interesting. Give yourself the time you need to keep the experience productive. This is extra important if you have to go straight from a conference back into a work day.


An Awkward Girl’s Guide to Attending a Professional Conference

An Awkward Girl’s Guide to Creative Brainstorming

When I remembered that today was Wednesday and I needed to blog, I was very worried because I didn’t have any idea what to write about. As a person who has to do creative-ish things every day, it sometimes gets hard to avoid creative blocks. The part of my day that’s spent in an office, especially, is challenging because there is a lack of new stimuli and I feel trapped.

So I’ve come up with a couple of things to keep me going in the creative realm. Many of them make me more awkward, but they help so here we go.

1. RESEARCH. If I am starting a new project, I start with research. Whether it’s visual research (which I often use Pinterest for) or just research into what a client wants or has produced in the past, this part of the process can be really inspiring. It’s a great chance to get fired up by the work of others. You can do this step whether you are actively working on a project or not. The more you read and look, the more you store away in your inspiration bank.

Talking through ideas and/or interviewing clients counts as research too. Again, even if you don’t have a project, this can be fun. Just talk through ideas, what-ifs and what you like/don’t like. You never know when an idea might hit you.

2. GET IT OUT. Write things down while you are researching, while you’re walking down the street or when you can’t sleep. Maybe notes in your phone works for you. Maybe the inspiration flows more freely with a paper and pen. Sketch things out if it works better. Try free writing or bubble mapping. There are 101 ways to get whatever is in  your head out, and sometimes one will work better for you than others. Experiment.

The most important thing is to create something. Get in the habit of brainstorming in a physical way that you can see and come back to. If you don’t get it out, you might get stuck in your head and blank.

3. PLAY. Try something more playful while you are thinking through your problems. I am a tactile thinker so things like silly putty and playdoh help me work through my issues. Whether I am mindlessly rolling it in my hands or making little sculptures, play can distract you just enough to let your ideas flow.

In this way, you are being indirectly creative. Sure, you aren’t making anything productive per say, but you are in the process of creating something and it loosens up those ideas. A little bit of a break helps too, and play really takes the pressure off you and your brain for a moment.

4. MOVE. I know this is an old cliche, but moving helps. Change your position or take a walk. If you are trapped in a small office, you can go take a trip to get a drink or visit the restroom. There have been tons of research about how exercise and physical exertion can help with creativity and mood. I’m not much of an exerciser, but  sitting somewhere new or taking a brisk walk almost always helps me sort out my thoughts a bit better. It’s not a magical solution but every bit helps.

Here are some of the ways I brainstorm for creative projects when I feel like the well is all dried up. I even tried some of them while brainstorming for this post. What do you do when your brain seems stuck and you have to stay creative?

An Awkward Girl’s Guide to Creative Brainstorming

An Awkward Girl’s Guide to the Classic Undersell

Sometimes I feel unbearably awkward. I don’t hate people… I’m not even always bad with people. I do, however, have some pretty intense anxiety about new people and situations. Most of these anxieties seem to stem from a hefty dose of insecurity.

In the professional world, my insecurity is a problem. It not only makes me more awkward, but it also causes me to commit a professional world sin: the classic undersell.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “Awkward Girl, I’m not a salesperson.” Oh Reader, you are definitely a salesperson… of YOURSELF! When I interviewed for my first summer of internships I definitely undersold myself. My employer told me as much when I finished my internship, I didn’t fairly sell myself in my interview/ application progress.

So I’ve decided to list some tips I’ve developed to be fair to myself and sell myself in professional situations. I’ll be the first to admit that I still don’t always succeed but the tips help.

1. LIST YOUR SKILLS. You have skills even though you don’t remember them in professional situations. Honestly list them out. What makes you a unique candidate? What are you really good at? What experiences have you had that were really beneficial?

Don’t worry about thing directly applying to any specific job at first, just list things. This can be hard, but it’s important to have an honest list of things you can do. Later you can specify this list towards specific things and remember them when you’re in professional settings.

2. REFLECT THOSE SKILLS. Do your professional materials reflect the skills you have listed? Every Resume/CV/Cover Letter that you write should highlight some, if not all, of the skills that you feel you have. Having pieces that make you look good can help your confidence.

But make sure you don’t go too far and stretch the truth of what you can do or have done. You need to be comfortable with your resume in order to be comfortable and confident in an interview.

3. ASK SOMEONE YOU TRUST FOR HELP. If you have a professor or colleague who has experience getting jobs in your field, ask if they will help you out. Whether you have them look at your resume or just talk over what you can expect, their experience is invaluable.

There are also great resources at most universities to help out with career stuff. Check out your Career Center and they will likely have tips for you. Try to be honest about where you struggle the most when you are underselling yourself, they will be able to tell you’re not confident and help you out.

4. DEFEND YOURSELF. Is there someone you know who seems to always get the job? Do you have anyone who you feel like you work harder than? I have some of those people and one of my close friends told me I should try this tip.Pretend that your person is going up for your dream job or internship and defend yourself! Why do you deserve it?

I don’t usually encourage you to compare yourself to others people. Most of the time that is a BAD IDEA. But it helps to get a little angry, because then you want to fight to present your skills, and you don’t undersell yourself. A little competition with a person you know you deserve to beat might boost your confidence.

5. DON’T PSYCH YOURSELF OUT. When you are waiting for an interview don’t psych yourself out. I tend to look around at my competition and think immediately that I’m woefully out of place. By the time I actually gotten to the interview, I consider my case already lost. All the other ones are so smart looking, pretty, tall, experienced, and professional,I think. DON’T DO THAT.

You most likely don’t know anything about your competition. You can’t do anything about them anyways. Focus on you and your list of skills. Remember your successes and take a deep breath.

An Awkward Girl’s Guide to the Classic Undersell

An Awkward Girl’s Guide to Business Calls

Sometimes I feel unbearably awkward. I don’t hate people… I’m not even always bad with people. I do, however, have some pretty intense anxiety about new people and situations. Today when my coworker asked me if I was comfortable making so calls, I said yes. Inside I had a mini panic attack.

One of my least favorite things is to call people on the phone. This fear manifested when I was younger and I’ve never really gotten over it. I don’t call for take-out… I don’t answer my phone if I don’t recognize a number. It frequently takes me nearly 20 minutes to get myself sorted out a dial a number.

As a journalism and communications student, however, phone calls can be really beneficial. As much as I hate it, many times calls are way more efficient than email. After spending all morning calling nursing homes for information to populate a website I’m working on, I’ve come up with some tips to make phone calls more bearable.

These tips have to do with business calls, although they could be helpful for any sort of information-seeking call (inquiring about an internship or position etc). Phone interviews are a whole other ballgame and I’ll probably have another post about those sometime…

1. WRITE A SCRIPT. Writing out what you are going to say might sound dorky, but it helps me immensely. Not only is the act calming in itself, but it helps you avoid that awkward pause that so often happens when someone finally answers the phone.

Scripting out what you want to say also means you’ll probably sound more professional and older (if you’re a young sounding person like me, that’s helpful). It’s good to read your script out loud a couple of times before starting. When you read it, make sure that you don’t sound like a robot or a telemarketer. If it’s appropriate to pause and wait for some sort of response, do so.

2. BREATHE AND TAKE YOUR TIME. You want to make sure that you are speaking clearly and professionally. If you’re awkward like me, you’ll be really uncomfortable having to repeat yourself over and over.

You’re going to naturally speak quickly and maybe even quietly because you are nervous, so be conscious of that. Usually all  it takes is a mental reminder to make yourself sound natural, and you’re good to go. You’ll get better with practice, too, so keep calling people (but only when necessary… I’m not saying to just call business people for funsies… that’s silly).

3. THINK THROUGH POSSIBLE RESPONSES. If you have some sort of inquiry or request, chances are there are only a couple possible answers. One of the possibilities is voicemail too, so be prepared for that. In general, just think through what you will do or say in response to each possible response. Don’t make yourself crazy thinking through endless possibilities, though. That’s bad.

This also helps me put my call in perspective. I will either get a yes or no to my request. Someone will answer my question, transfer me, or say they can’t answer. None of these things will be the end of the world.

4. KNOW YOUR NUMBER. This seems silly, but if you get a voicemail or if someone says they’ll call you back, you might forget your number. Have it written down. This is really important if you are calling from a work phone or a phone that is not your usual. You’ll sound more professional if you can just rattle the number off and you’ll feel more confident as well.

5. DOUBLE CHECK THE NUMBER YOU’RE CALLING. I hate calling the wrong number and it makes me really nervous every time. I want to make sure I’m going to get the person I’m trying to call. I double, triple check the number I’m calling as a result. I look it up, write it down, double check it, type it in the phone, and check it again.

This might be a little more obsessive than you want/need personally, but the act of double checking a number can be really calming, especially if you are calling somewhere for the first time.

Phone calls are essential to many jobs/ careers. If they make you anxious, remember these tips. It’s really not that bad once you get going. The key is confidence, and if you’re not confident, find a way to fake it until you are.

An Awkward Girl’s Guide to Business Calls

An Awkward Girl’s Guide to Internships

Sometimes I feel unbearably awkward. I don’t hate people… I’m not even always bad with people. I do, however, have some pretty intense anxiety about new people and situations. Internships are full of new people and situations. Always. I want to have a job someday, and so I need to work on that fear. I survived my first internship and I’m here to help!

So if you look back to my entry on my first day of work, you’ll find that I ripped my pants. There is nothing more awkward than ripping your pants on the first day of an internship. That was the high point of awkwardness but I struggled in other, less obvious ways from time to time.

So here are my tips:

1. COMMUNICATE. I am very shy in new situations. My biggest struggle is making conversation. I know a lot of people in the same boat. As nervous as you are, make sure you are communicating with your coworkers and your boss. You can be a great worker, but it’s easier for people to forget you are there if you are silent. Also, though email is the favorite tool of socially awkward people, in person communication is usually better.

I actually had the President/CEO of the small company I worked for ask me if I spoke on a weekly basis. I did not necessarily follow my own advice. When I finally had a full conversation with him, on my last day, he was amazed. Don’t be me. People like people who chat.

2. ASK QUESTIONS. I hate asking questions. Anyone who has worked with me knows that I’m a “figure it out on my own” kinda girl. Questions make me feel stupid and inferior because I have a tendency to lean towards those feelings anyways.

Questions, however, are really good. They help you do your work better. And they prevent misunderstandings. Like once I didn’t ask about getting paid and I then I didn’t get paid like I was supposed to.

3. YOU AREN’T AS BAD AS YOU THINK. I tend to be really dramatic about my social awkwardness. I have a stilted conversation and I think “I’ll never succeed at life.” Almost everyone I’ve talked to has told me that I’m not nearly as bad as I think. It’s important not to over think it (easier said then done, I know). Every day is another chance to make another impression.

Just try to be confident, and if you can’t be confident, fake it til you make it. You are much more awkward in your head than you are in real life. Even if you are just faking it, eventually you’ll  have the confidence to realize how awesome you are.

Internships are great learning opportunities. Don’t let your fear of your awkwardness keep you from doing and learning everything you can!

An Awkward Girl’s Guide to Internships

An Awkward Girl’s Guide to Interviewing

Sometimes I feel unbearably awkward. I don’t hate people… I’m not even always bad with people. I do, however, have some pretty intense anxiety about new people and situations. I haven’t been able able to nail down a summer internship, to my personal embarrassment. Internships in the communications/writing fields are hard to come by and I’ve been going after difficult ones. I’ve had several interviews but haven’t been able to get past the interview process.

Though I don’t think that my failure is entirely based on my interviewing skills. Interviewing is, however, a struggle for me because it’s terrifying. There is so much pressure on every word and interaction, and I find it so difficult to show my skills in this one meeting. So, at the urging of my mother, I participated in a mock interview and I learned a couple of tips that I think will resonate with other awkward people out there.

1. MAKE IT PERSONAL. The people who are interviewing you want to know your skills, for sure, but they also want to get a sense of who you are. They’ve already seen your resume, so just repeating those things isn’t going to make you go above and beyond. I always thought that it was unprofessional to show my personality in an interview, but I personality is what makes so stick out. Perhaps I won’t launch into a speech on my undying love for Doctor Who, but adding a few details about what I like and dislike is probably ok.

2. BE PASSIONATE. Along with showing  personality, another area I struggle with is conveying my passion. I once got a job because I cried in an interview. While I would never do that again, in that moment I was so struck by my desire to work at the Christian camp I’d attended since my childhood, that I was moved to tears. The person who hired me apparently insisted on it, because that person knew how passionate I was. There are few jobs that I will ever be quite as passionate about as that one, but no matter what I have a reason to be passionate about any job. It’s important to convey that passion to future employers. This passion puts you apart from the people who are just looking for stepping stones to get them to somewhere greater. Maybe the job your interviewing is just a stepping stone. Maybe it’s just a means of income. Find a reason to be passionate about that income and convey it. That makes you stand out.

3. DON’T PUT TOO MUCH PRESSURE ON IT. The person who did my mock interview has hired many people. She asked if I was nervous for this fake interview. I said yes. Later, she told me that I’d never get the job unless I stopped caring so much whether or not I got it. It’s a matter, she explained, of understanding that you may or may not get the job and either way it doesn’t matter. There will be other jobs and other interviews. This is apparently the secret to confidence. I am a worrier who has trouble taking pressure off of situations like these. But one internship will not make or break my future career. If I end up doing something else this summer, I can still advance my career. Few interviews are life and death.

4. ASK GOOD QUESTIONS. One of the parts of interviews that I struggle with the most is the part where they ask if I have any questions. My go to question is asking about daily tasks of the position, but sometimes that is already covered. My interviewer said 2-3 good questions is ideal. The best way to ask questions? Use your research. In this way you can show your interviewers that you know about their company and have been thinking about the position. Don’t ask about money or vacation days. Do ask about what you can do to help the company. Ask about the company. Asked based on what you know. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

5. BE CONFIDENT. Last but not least, with all of these steps, the last one is confidence. Walk into an interview with a sense that you are qualified for the job and you are entitled to this interview. I’m terrible at this one, but these tips should help build up confidence. I am good at what I do and I am well trained. My mock interviewer said she’d hire me if a real position existed. I’m on a losing streak thats near 8 or 9 and when I go into my next interview, Thursday, I’m going to struggle not to think about my 7 or 8 failures so far. These losses don’t mean that I’m not good or qualified. The same can be said for you, I’m sure. So build up your confidence and walk in with it.

An Awkward Girl’s Guide to Interviewing