I went to the ExpressionEngine Roadshow today where I learned a couple things, was disgusted with EllisLab for their cop-out non-presentation, and awkwardly stood alone in the corner (or, worse, the center of the room) between speeches while people around me did this thing called “networking”.
I am such crap at networking. I’ve only attended two conferences so far (An Event Apart and EE Roadshow), but at both I came to the conclusion that the presentations aren’t what the thing’s about. Both times only about half of the presentations were remotely worthwhile, while the others were either senseless cruft or so bogged down by the speaker’s fear of public speaking and/or inability to write coherently that by the end I just wanted to bang my head into the nearest wall a few times. Clearly we aren’t here because web developers are charismatic individuals with a flair for speech-writing.
So I can only assume that it’s the times in between, the meal times and parties, that people find the real value. Those times when you’re expected to wander around, get to know your fellow developers, swap business cards, and talk shop.
Sadly for me, I have no interest in approaching complete strangers and introducing myself. I’ve never had this inclination, which is something that puzzles me. Engage me in conversation, and you’ll find I’m not socially awkward: I am, in fact, an intelligent individual with a good sense of humor who loves interacting with people. Observe me with a group of my friends or family, and you may think me highly extroverted. Yet drop me in a room full of strangers, and I clam up instantly. I know these people are passionate about the same things I’m passionate about, but unless one of them seeks me out I find it hard to think of things to talk about.
I was thinking about this on the bus ride home (I left early, having deduced from fifteen minutes standing around alone that I wasn’t going to get anything out of the after-party, particularly since I don’t drink and thus could not take advantage of the free alcohol), and I’ve finally realized the problem: I’m a presenter. A performer. I’m damn good at giving a speech and then talking to people about it afterward, but no good at being just another member of the audience, milling around and networking.
Problem being, of course, that in both the EE community and the web development community as a whole, I’m a nobody. I haven’t written any books, or published any extensions, or been hired by Happy Cog so it’s unlikely anyone is going to invite me to speak anytime soon.
Guess it’s time to either start the difficult personal work necessary to overcome my awkwardness at initiating social encounters or start submitting topic proposals to my favorite web conference organizers.