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Events like Red Hat Summit fill me with excitement and, admittedly, a bit of trepidation. Thousands of people, a schedule packed with informative and useful sessions, and opportunities to meet and talk with folks doing exciting work in open source sounds great. It also, well, sounds a bit exhausting if you’re an introvert. It doesn’t have to be, though, and Red Hat wants everyone to feel welcome, comfortable, and able to fully enjoy the event. With that in mind, read on for some strategies and resources for success.
Introverts aren’t (necessarily) misanthropes, we just tend to like smaller gatherings and less noisy and intense social situations. Even those can be fun, in limited doses. The thing about a large conference like Red Hat Summit, though, is that it’s a huge helping of people and activities turned up to 11. Don’t worry, you can still go and have a great experience, it just takes a little bit of planning.
Take control of the schedule
If you’re registered for Red Hat Summit, you can use the agenda builder to map out the things you want to do well ahead of time. I find that having a plan for the day makes an enormous difference, versus flying by the seat of my pants and feeling out of control. As an added bonus, signing up ahead of time makes it more likely I’ll be getting into crowded or full sessions because I’m already on the roster.
The other thing I do is look for natural gaps in the schedule I can use to catch a breather. And if there aren’t any natural gaps in the schedule, I might try to create one if it’s going to be a long and busy day.
Whether it’s walking around the block to gather my thoughts or popping back to the hotel for a quick power nap between sessions and evening activities, a quick break can help a lot in restoring social shields to full power.
If you’re attending an event with coworkers, another strategy is to buddy up with a person who is a conversational powerhouse. Speaking for myself, I don’t mind observing a good conversation, I just run out of steam pretty quickly trying to keep one going or being asked a lot of questions.
If you can team up with someone who’s got the gift of gab and doesn’t mind deploying it, you can kick back and let the conversation flow without having to drain your batteries to keep it going.
Also, I find it helpful to know at least one person in every crowd. Having one or more people you feel comfortable with can make a crowd situation feel more friendly.
Push yourself a bit
Mingling and networking are not my favorite activities, sort of like exercise. Like exercise, I like the results and a little extra effort now pays off later. Also like exercise, the more I make an effort to mix and mingle, the better I get at it, and the more I enjoy it. Just be careful not to drop any weights on your foot. (I might have overextended the analogy at this point.)
It’d be a shame to go to Red Hat Summit (or to miss Red Hat Summit!) and come away from the event without having made some new acquaintances. Red Hat Summit draws a great crowd, lots of people doing interesting things with open source, solving interesting problems.
You can learn a lot from other Summit attendees, as well as Red Hatters who are there to help you learn about our products, technologies and open source in general. And, I might be biased here, you’ll also find quite a few genuinely nice and interesting folks at Summit. I know I have.
So, plan to push yourself at Summit to meet a few new people and strike up conversations even if that’s not your natural inclination.
If possible, get there early. Whether it’s breakout sessions, keynotes, social events, whatever - get there early. Why? Because you can usually stake out the spots most likely to be quiet or less crowded.
For social events and parties, if you want to put in an appearance you can do it early when it’s less crowded (usually) and then head out after an hour or two. As a bonus, you’ll get a shot at the good hors d'oeuvres before they run out.
If you’re leaving your comfort zone, it might be more enjoyable if you feel more in control of your interactions. So, two suggestions. The first is to think about things you might talk about and how you might nudge conversations along and be a more engaged participant. You might even, dare I say it, pick up a book or listen to a podcast about being better at conversation.
Secondly, feel empowered to start a conversation rather than waiting for someone to start a conversation with you. And be ready to steer it a bit, and have a plan to wrap it up when you’re ready to move on.
I grew up in the Midwest, where people can say goodbye standing in the doorway in mid-winter for 45 minutes until you have frostbite and snow in the kitchen. I learned to have an exit strategy for conversations at a very young age.
If you’re feeling ready to move on, have some prepared closers at hand. I find “it’s been really nice meeting you and enjoyed talking to you” is a good one, and then move on. You can also need to get another drink or some food, or need to make a business phone call. In really pressing scenarios I start showing pictures of my cats. That usually wraps it up, but worst-case scenario, I get to talk about my cats, so that’s a win-win.
This is a bit of a cheat, but that’s OK. Most folks know that headphones are the universal sign to leave a person in peace. If this hasn’t come up for you previously - a person wearing headphones should be universally understood to be off-limits to conversations that don’t involve “excuse me, you seem to be on fire” or “I’m sorry, you seem to have dropped this embarrassingly large roll of cash.”
If you need to check out and recharge for a few minutes but can’t duck out to your room or a private setting, grab a seat somewhere and pop in headphones for five or 10 minutes. You’d be surprised how a few minutes of relative quiet can help boost the mental batteries and get you ready to re-engage. Choice of music is an exercise left to the reader.
Another handy resource to recharge for a few minutes is the quiet lounge in the northwest lobby. The lounge will have comfy chairs, some provisions like water and hand sanitizer, a whiteboard for some thoughtful questions to ask and answer on social media, and places to recharge your devices.
We want everybody to have the best Summit experience possible, and to come away from the event feeling energized about open source, and ready to solve IT problems and help create new and better applications for their organizations. Whether you’re introverted, extroverted, or somewhere right in the middle, we hope you’ll have an amazing experience.
And, if you're not yet registered, what are you waiting for? Head over to the Red Hat Summit site and use the code RHBLOG19 to save $100 on your registration. (Code cannot be combined with other codes for Summit.)
About the author
Joe Brockmeier is the editorial director of the Red Hat Blog. He also acts as Vice President of Marketing & Publicity for the Apache Software Foundation.