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 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