At best, I'd find another shy soul and build a connection over shared stories of awkward networking events. At worst, I'd spill a drink while trying to shake someone's hand, answer "yes" when somebody asked "what's your name?", or leave Philly with the same amount of business cards I came with because I spoke with absolutely NO ONE. These were the items on my Scale Of Social Interaction For Introverts And Generally Clumsy People, however I had no choice but to face my fears and get social at this year's Blogging While Brown Conference.
Through the entire conference, I had my sista sidekick Rowena with me, so I never really was alone. However, you never want to come off as the anti-social, standing-in-the-corner-gossiping-with-your-homegirl type at social events either. So, how did put my shyness aside and make the most of the human experience at Blogging While Brown?
Break time during the panels seemed to be a game of Musical Chairs. People would get up to grab a snack, make a call, or say hello to a friend, and next thing they knew, someone else was in their seat. Ro and I had pretty prime seating, so while we stayed put, we were treated to a rotation of different people joining our table. It would start with a smile, or a shared laugh over a joke. Then, the question: "So,what's your blog about?" followed by "Where are you from?" Ro and I were the only non-Americans in the house (that I knew of), so when people heard "Toronto", that opened up an entirely new conversation. The Musical Chairs game really helped me to practice my blogging elevator pitch - finding an efficient and interesting way to answer "So, what do you blog about?" Eventually, I was totally comfortable talking about myself and my blog, and learning about everyone else's too. Added bonus - my business cards got WORKED! Extra extra bonus? Meeting a VP from a dope hair care line that's READY to do an event here in Toronto...
No Such Thing As Coincidence
On Friday evening, something truly awesome happened when Ro and I returned after a break for the evening panel. We walked back up to the room where the earlier panels had been held, only to find the room empty, save a few women. They noted our confusion and advised that the Relationship panel was in a different room downstairs. Before we had a chance to turn around, one of the women commented on my hair and asked for some hair tips. As we talked, another exclaimed "Oh my God - you look JUST LIKE ILYASAH!" then turned to her friends saying "Doesn't she look like Ilyasah? With her skin and her glasses and her hair - and Ilyasah's hair is natural too!" Everyone at the table emphatically agreed that I looked identical to Ilyasah, so I had to ask - "Who is Ilyasah?"
"Oh - Ilyasah Shabazz. Malcolm X's daughter!" I thought it was cool that these women were friends with a woman from such strong lineage, and wondered if I really did look like her. One of the women told me to find her on Twitter. "Tweet Ilyasah and tell her you met Teresa here - and Teresa thinks y'all look like twins!" I agreed, but ended up thinking I'd come across like a lunatic, so I put that thought in the back of my head. Later that night at the hotel, Ro asked if I had tweeted Ilyasah. I changed my mind and was about to do so, however I forgot the woman's name who I met hours earlier. I found Ilyasah on Twitter and followed her, and left it at that.
The next morning, we just happened to run into the same woman from the day before! "Did you tweet Ilyasah?" she asked. I told her I was going to, but forgot her name. "It's Teresa. TWEET HER NOW!" So I did:
Then she replied:
Then I geeked out:
Then she made me geek out even harder:
Then I DM'd her my contact info and blog link, and she replied saying she'd be checking it out.
Then I realized, I'm tweeting with Ilyasah Shabazz. Don't tell me Twitter is a waste of time. Had we not ended up in the wrong room, and had I not run into Teresa again out of all the people at the conference, I would have never connected with Ilyasah. Something to think about.
Nighttime Is The Right Time
Friday and Saturday nights featured various mingling events. On Friday, we attended a Mix & Mingle event sponsored by Curls Unleashed. It was at this event that I learned how just being genuine, no matter how awkward I may feel, was the best way to connect with others. Complimenting someone's hairstyle or shoe game (and really meaning it) opened the door to meeting so many awesome people! '83 To Infinity business cards were whizzing out of my hands left and right!
Saturday night was the big afterparty, thrown by Patrice from Afrobella and Shea Radiance. Ro and I got dolled up and hit up The Reef, an awesome Jamaican restaurant and lounge. It was the Blogging While Brown sendoff, and everyone seemed really comfortable and ready to have a good time. We feasted on veggies, beef patties, and jerk chicken wings, and tried HARD not to wine down low when we realized that The Reef was playing some damn good reggae! The Caribbean contingent couldn't hide though - we were soon joined by Patrice and Eva aka Socamom, and enjoyed a little well-behaved bubble. This part was "easy" - by then, I had spoken with, or shared a smile/laugh with almost everyone in there. It was nothing to strike up a convo with someone at that point, because just being at the conference already gave us a common ground. I met some more great people, chatted with the founder of Shea Radiance, Funlayo Alabi, about visiting Toronto, and got my eat on. I was a happy camper - and then the real music started. We turned The Reef out! There I was, in my reggae & soca element, cracking jokes with Scott Hanselman - and it happened. In a Nutty Professor moment, I started to get a bit too into what I was saying...started talking with my hands...and next thing I know, Scott's drink was on the floor and Patrice was checking herself for any water damage. Sigh. I guess you can mask being a introvert, but you can't ever mask being clumsy as all hell.
So, what did I learn? Have an interesting elevator pitch. Make sure business cards are easily accessible. Walk into the wrong room sometimes. Be genuine. Remember what you have in common. And for the love of God, Allah, Buddha, and any other deity, try NOT to dash a keynote speaker's drink halfway across the club!
Attending the Blogging While Brown conference really helped me to continue the process of working on my shyness. Overall, I think I did pretty well! This post just barely covers the impact of connecting and interacting with the other conference attendees - and I think the true impact is yet to be seen. How are you in networking settings? Are you a nervous wreck or a schmoozing king/queen? Let me know how you cope!