Irving Washington’s strategy for introverts at ONA19

Irving Washington, ONA Executive Director/CEO, originally wrote this post in 2015. As it continues to be a popular and useful guide, each year we have refreshed it with new resources and tips specific to the year’s event and host city. For ONA19, we are also excited to share a companion guide for extroverts with solid advice from Samantha Ragland, ONA Local organizer and Women’s Leadership Accelerator alumnae. Samantha has attended our conference since 2014.

ONA’s annual conference has landed in New Orleans. What began as just a few hundred attendees to now 2,800 people, the conference is one of the most exciting and energetic journalism gatherings in the world.

As a self-proclaimed introvert, I know that in large crowds we can be the life of the party or the quietest person in the room. (As a PSA to our extroverted friends, introversion has nothing to do with shyness or social awkwardness  — if I had a dime for every time someone doubted my introversion, I’d be rich — but more to do with our response to stimulation and need for renewal.)

Having clocked in at nearly 50 journalism conferences and nine ONA conferences, I feel pretty confident this strategy guide will help my #ONAIntroverts at ONA19.

Have a “start early” strategy

Nothing is more overwhelming to an introvert than attending an event where you don’t know anyone. Eliminate this by connecting now with attendees online. Follow conversations on #ONA19, @ONA, and @ONAConf. Introduce yourself in the ONA19 Facebook group and be sure to scan the attendees list for anyone you might want to reach out to before the conference (Tip: Check your inbox! We emailed everyone who registered as of Sept. 5 a full list of fellow attendees).

New this year, we also have ONA19 social team member Mary Willson serving as a dedicated digital host on Instagram (@online_news) — don’t hesitate to connect with her via our account to exchange tips and stories ahead of the conference.

Have an overall conference strategy

A common introverted procrastination technique is just to wing it. You’re investing your time and money to attend, so spend some time thinking about how to make your experience the best. Do you want to learn a particular skill? Check out the conference schedule to find hands-on workshops. Want a new job? Visit the exhibit hall in the Napoleon Ballroom (3rd floor, Sheraton) to discover work opportunities and talk directly with potential employers.

Have a networking strategy

I know. I know. The word “networking” alone makes introverts cringe. Not because we don’t enjoy great people and conversations, but because we like to view our relationships as genuine and authentic. But ONA19 will have a ton of opportunities to develop real connections.

You should definitely plan to attend the Opening Night Reception at Generations Hall, Online Journalism Awards Ceremony and ONA Local Office Hours. Check out the ONA Local meetups happening during the week to connect with digital journalism peers based where you live, and browse the parties and special networking events so you don’t miss the gatherings most relevant to you.

Here are pro networking tips to keep in mind while you are at social events:

  • Get there early. Yes, it can be awkward when there is no one there yet, but it’s also the best time to meet folks. Plus, the perfect conversation starter is talking about getting there early.
  • Act like the host. This is perhaps the best advice I’ve ever received. Hosts welcome, connect and make sure guests have a good time. You will make a ton of friends this way.
  • Find the connectors. Some people are naturals at this. Meet as many of them as you can. They will introduce you to all kinds of interesting people. Some well-known ONA connectors you can reach out to in advance are Robert Hernandez, Benét Wilson, Greg Linch and Mandy Jenkins. (Being the connectors they are, they all agreed to help my fellow introverts reading this post.) Blogger and author Tim Ferriss has a great podcast on building a world-class network from his experience at SXSW, which is perfect advice for ONA19 as well.
  • Plan your stories. By now, you know the normal questions at these shindigs: Where are you from? What do you do? What do you think of the conference? One of the reasons introverts shine as speakers is that we take time to prepare. Plan engaging stories to these questions in advance.

Have a session strategy

Networking isn’t limited to social events. Here are some sessions that will help you keep meeting interesting people throughout the day.

  • Table Talks: This series of participatory, topic-focused conversations will be a chance to meet colleagues who have similar interests. Introverts are the chattiest around topics we care about. Share your knowledge and expertise in these inspiring conversations. There are table talks sessions on audience, leadership, revenue and and culture, storytelling, emerging tech and product, reporting and women leaders in nonprofit media.
  • The Midway: This is the playground of journalism innovation and collaboration. From product launches to demos to hands-on session, the Midway is the place to hang out and meet groups showcasing emerging tools and services.

Have a recharge strategy

You are not an extrovert. Say it with me again: You are not an extrovert. This is perhaps the single most important advice. If you overplan and attend every session and party, you will be drained, contrary to our extroverted friends, who will only get more recharged with every event. Make sure to plan your breaks and rest. It’s OK if you don’t go to everything. Make sure you’re at your best for the events you do attend.

If your favorite way to recharge from conference activities is meandering somewhere new, explore our many guides to New Orleans for ideas — including a quick route through the French Quarter and outdoor activities. The city has so much to offer for when you just need a break from the conference hotel!

If all else fails, seek me out (@IrvWashington3). I’m not only an expert introvert, I’m pretty knowledgeable about ONA19, too.