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Networking for the terminally shy (or it’s time for RWA) by Leslie Dow

There are only 11 more days until July 18 and I am already having mini panic attacks.

July 18, the first day of the RWA Conference.  I don’t know about you but I suck at networking.

I hate it.


The thought of walking into a room with people I do not know and do not know me and somehow talking to them fills my introverted soul with pure terror. Yet everyone knows successful networking is the key to success in any business, including the solitary (mostly) world of writing and publishing.


So what’s a wallflower to do?

Well first off, we can use the internet to see what others have done. That’s always good, right? Internet searches! Which can be done alone! Yay!

I ran across a number of sites that ranged from Networking for Tech Entrepreneurs from Foundr to Why introverts might be better at Networking. Uh no.  But through all these sites and articles there were clear nuggets of best practices. I will save you some Googling and list them here. 🙂 Then you can use the next 11 days to get ready for Denver! Because the best way to get the most out of the conference is to be ready for it.


Decide what you want out of the conference.

Are you there to learn key skills? Pitch a book?  Find an agent? Decide what your goals are for the conference. That will make strategizing a lot simpler and your networking goals a lot easier. and your stress a lot less. I have two goals this conference:

  • Spread the word about SavvyAuthors and our new IndieCafe
  • Learn as much as I can about indie publishing so I can do this, too.

That’s it so when I am faced with choices at the conference I will hand out business cards with our cute writing quotes on the back while I am waiting for the next talk on How To Hit the Lists with Your First Indie Pubbed Book. 🙂


Prepare before you come.

Now that you have goals take some time and look up the classes and the presenters. Find out who you would like to hear and talk to. I honestly think that for us, preparation for an event like this is key. We don’t do this naturally so just like anything you are not particularly talented at you have to work on it. For me, working on it at home where I am safe and alone is far better and less stressful than working on it in front of people I don’t know. So do your homework from the background on the conference events to the layout of the hotel. The more familiar you are with everything the less stressed you will be.


Get comfortable to be yourself

One of the things I struggle with at conferences is being physically present. By that I mean I fret over my clothes and wear things that I think I should be seen in but maybe are not the most comfortable for me. I’ll wear heels when I know I can’t walk in the darn things. I’ll wear a skirt when every other day I wear jeans or pants. I dress for what I think others want to see me wearing. Or me as some fashion icon of who I want to be.  As insane as that sounds.

So this year, I am dressing for me and for comfort. Bring on the great flats and sneakers. You will see me in jeans and comfy shirts with warm sweaters for those insanely cold meeting rooms. Ok, Ok, you may see one or two great booties but I swear that’s it! You will also see me wearing only the makeup that I normally wear. I mean really, do you want to see me or some weird idea of who I think you want to see? Sheesh.


Get there early and sit in the middle

Then there is that all-encompassing ball of stress around where to sit in the meeting rooms. Up front and I feel like a total nerd, which I am, but whatever. In the back, where I am most comfortable, but where I will spend the whole time suppressing my desire to flee. That door, so close, so tempting.  In the middle and I may get claustrophobic. I’m not usually claustrophobic, but these kinds of fears are not about reality they are about anxiety and that is not rational. 

Most of the online experts suggest that you arrive to the meeting room early and choose a seat on the edge of the row but not too close to the front or back. Get comfortable there and look around at the others sitting nearby. Smile and say Hi. Remember most of them are shy, too. It’s pretty common among writers. An added bonus to getting there early is you have a chance to talk to someone while it’s relatively quiet still. That’s always easier for us and even if you only talk to one person, that is one person more than you knew before the class.

Also DO NOT BRING OUT THE CELL PHONE. Seriously I know how comforting it is to slink into a chair and shove the phone in your face, thankfully screening out all the people around you. But that’s completely obviating the point of the conference: to meet people. So don’t do it!


Have some scripted questions

This really is where the rubber hits the road, right? I mean what do I say anyway?  All the advice sites say basically the same thing: Ask them why they are here. In a nice way, of course. No stalker questions. Now, this is for RWA so you can tailor that a bit.  Something like:

  • Is this your first RWA?
    • Yes, yes, I know this is the conference equivalent of the college what is your major? But it is still useful and can be all you have in a pinch. Have a few follow up questions ready too. Like if it is, suggest some interesting things that you like to do at RWA and if it is not, have you noticed anything different this year?
  • OMG these rooms are freezing!
    • And they will be, trust me. Sometimes bringing up something bad or irritating that everyone in the room shares can create an instant bond. Then you can laugh about it and the ice is sort of broken. You could do a total riff on the movie Frozen or the March of the Penguins.
  • Have you ever heard <insert presenter name >> talk about this?
    • Always know why you are in the room you are in. Or maybe have a great story…I was on my way to the a signing with Nora while I was abducted by a herd of Indie authors on their way to a lecture on 87 ways to legally beat the KU rules.
  • Where are you from?
    • This is an oldie but goodie, but pretty much everyone loves to talk about where they are from. I’ll leave that one to you!


And some ready answers

Basically, how’s that elevator pitch coming? Not to further stress you out, but having something practiced for the Big Question can really save you a lot of stress.  Be prepared to have intelligent responses to:

  • What do you write?
  • What is your book about?
  • Where are you from? (lol)

If you are really freaked out about this, jot down your answers on some index cards and practice at home. If you want to take this to the next level have something interesting that the questioner, who is likely as freaked as you are, can use as a follow-up.

  • I’m from Narnia, but am wintering in Cleveland this year. 😉


Collect contacts like you collect conference schwag

Ok maybe not that much, because as an introvert you want to be sure the contacts you keep are important ones. Make notes about the person so you will recall them- business cards are great for this. (blatant plug time: Dawn’s and my new business cards have witty writing sayings in watermark over a large area you can make notes on) Connect with your new contacts on social media and remind them where you met. The social media contacts make follow-up easier.


Finally, have fun!

The RWA conference is a rip-roaring good time. If this is your first, you’ll see lots of hugging and squealing as people who have not seen each other since last year or maybe never met IRL before find each other in the crowds. It’s super fun to watch and even better to participate in.  SavvyAuthors is going to have a booth this year (see goal above) and Dawn, her daughter, and I will be manning (or womaning) it. Drop by and say Hi! You can hear our scripted answers as we in our most introverted way hand you fun things to take home while not really making eye contact.

Except for Dawn, she’s an extrovert but we love her anyway.

Thanks for reading and see you in Denver!


Leslie Dow, SavvyAuthors’ Site Director

Follow Leslie on Twitter @lesliedow, Facebook lesliedow, and LinkedIn lesliedow.

Pink Owl

[box type=”bio”]

Leslie DowLeslie is:

  1. The site director and owner of where she sits behind the curtain most days turning interweb knobs and twisting network dials.
  2. A complete and total slacker-writer who, if she does not get off her laurels and WRITE, is going to be flayed by the very talented writers who keep SavvyAuthors going.
  3. A rabid hiker who, when not on the trail, pours over the REI catalog, Sierra Trading Post website, and tries to justify buying more gear to shave another 1/2 ounce off her base pack weight.
  4. A medical device consultant who, when not hiking or thinking about hiking, occasionally works helping companies bring exceptionally cool and useful medical devices to market.
  5. A biology and chemistry Adjunct Professor at SouthMountain Community College. GO COUGARS!
  6. An enthusiastic grandmother of the two cutest babies on the planet!!!!

OK, I’m out..time to sort the latest crisis is to afflict SavvyAuthors  ;-).

Follow Leslie on Twitter @lesliedow, Facebook lesliedow, and LinkedIn lesliedow.


Leslie is: The site director and owner of where she sits behind the curtain most days turning interweb knobs and twisting network di...
  • D
    Dawn McClure
  • July 5, 2018
You love me anyway! Ha!

I&#039;ll be wearing a sweater one of those days. It&#039;s thin, but still, you are absolutely correct - it&#039;s freezing in those rooms!

I&#039;m very excited to see everyone. It&#039;s been a few years! :)
    Me too. I think the last RWA I went to was in So Cal? Maybe the one with you me and Liz before all hell broke loose. :)
  • F
  • July 10, 2018
I&#039;ve been to conventions since the 90s. There were some friends I met due to a TV show, but once the show ended and the cons stopped happening, the so-called friends ignored my e-mails since they didn&#039;t need a room mate to decrease their costs.

I meet people and have tried to be more outgoing, but it lasts only at the convention or conference.

I don&#039;t post anything, because most of the time it&#039;s ignored. When I post on someone&#039;s site, they respond with a like.

I even went to a pitch event. Me talking to a stranger and talking about my book was scary AND not just because of the pitch. Two years ago was the first time I read my story in public to a group.

Making connections that extend outside of the conference, that aren&#039;t Facebook, hasn&#039;t happened.
    Hi Frances
    If you are going to RWA this year, drop by and say Hi to Dawn and me. I am always pretty awkward at conferences, but when I am working it&#039;s far simpler. For the ones where I don&#039;t have a booth, I try to volunteer. That at least gives me something to do and a smaller group to interact with.