I am off to a conference in Vienna from this Saturday and for the whole following week. It will be a big event with big-name professors from all over the world and about 400 posters on display. I initially applied to do an oral presentation, but I didn’t make it. So, I was given the chance to present a poster. Not too bad. Going to such huge events where you will meet all the people whose names you have been reading on papers for 4+ years can be daunting. And if you are an introvert, it might feel like a nightmare.
Many people think that I am an easy-going and extrovert person because I am cool and have a big social media following. Quite the opposite. The place I enjoy the most is my house and the places where I am the most productive are either my desk or sofa. I don’t enjoy confusion, loud places and after talking for longer than an hour, I get overwhelmingly tired.
So how to shine and show that you are a true force of nature on such occasions?
Make friends before. Seriously, any respectable conference as a Twitter, Facebook or Instagram page and if not, there will be a related hashtag on Twitter. Send a short message telling the world that you are gonna be there. I always fly solo, so I find it very useful to feel like some familiar face will be there.
Write a not on social media and see who else will be there
Many young scientists, above all master students or early-stage PhD students, are frightened to talk because they don’t want to say anything stupid. That’s highly unlikely because chances are that the worst you can do is to make a mistake. And believe it or not, everyone makes mistakes. Plus, just bear in mind that there will be loads of people in your situation that are hiding in a corner for exactly the same reason you are.
The worst you can do is to make a mistake and, believe it or not, everyone makes mistakes
Most of the conversation shouldn’t even be about science at all. Many people start talking about their travelling to Italy or how much they loved Rome, Venice or Florence when they spot my Italian accent. You can start with some chit chat talk and if you are no longer interested, you can find an excuse and move away.
Also, remember that people love to talk about themselves as it gives them a sense of importance. So, if you aren’t the most eloquent person in the room, ask open questions like “Have you been coming from far away?”, “How have you found your PhD journey so far?” “What’s your research about?” You might find to have a lot in common with many people.
Don’t worry, we are all in the same boat!
Another recommendation is to bring your business cards with you. If you engage in interesting conversations with someone, you might want to stay in touch with them. I always ask people to add me on LinkedIn or Facebook so that I can stay friend and build a relationship beyond the conference. In some big events, the organising committee usually organises a job fair parallel to the event. So, having your business cards with you in always a good option. Plus, the world of science is very small and it’s very easy to bomb into your conference BFF over and over again.
Ultimately just remember that there will be loads of people in a similar situation, people who are coming for their first event, first poster or oral presentation everyone scared as hell to make a first good impression. You are not alone!