HALLIE EPHRON: In the wake of Bouchercon -- for those of you who've never been, it's the BIG KAHUNA of mystery conferences with thousands of attendees -- I am remembering the first Bouchercon I attended. I felt SO out of it. I'd come there to meet people, but instead I clung to my wine glass like a life raft and stuck to the two or three people I knew. I was terrified.
It felt like the time I went to the wedding of a friend whose family and friends were very nice and welcoming, but all of them were chattering away to one another in Chinese. I drifted off into the corner and cursed my husband for being late, and nibbled on hors d'oeuvres, and tried not to look self-conscious. I was halfway through a bau (a barbecued pork dumpling) when I realize I was eating the paper wrapper.
Since my first Bouchercon, it's much easier for me to find my sea legs in a crowd of strangers. A tip: volunteer! It's so easy to look like you know what you're doing when you have something to do. Like stuffing swag bags, or manning the registration table... and you meet people doing it.
Another one to practice: introduce yourself! And when you see someone you think you've met but you don't remember their name, introduce yourself and apologize for forgetting their name. They've probably forgotten yours, too, or possibly even that they ever met you, and maybe they didn't, but it won't matter.
Edge your way into a group. The key to making new connections is to be genuinely interested in other people.
And, oh yeah, don't drink too much. After the first glass of wine I just have the bartender top it off with club soda and an ice cube.
So, fellow Reds, what tips can you offer about thriving in a room of strangers?
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: One of the many nice things about conventions like Bouchercon or readings is that a great opening question is, "What have you read lately that you absolutely love?" We already have the established mutual interest of books, and it's personal (one's taste in books) and genuine — without being tooooooo personal. And you get great book recommendations that way!
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Great tips, Hallie and Susan! (And I was completely terrified at my first B'con, too.) But there are so many great conversation openers for introducing yourself at Bouchercon.
"Are you having a good time?"
"What's been your favorite experience so far?"
"What do you like to read?"
Or, "What do you write?"
I said this on the last night to a guy I hadn't seen before (late in the conference and he wasn't wearing a name tag.) It turned out he was a debut author whose editor is the editor who recommended my agent to me more than twenty years ago. AND the editor was there and I got to give him a big hug. That was one of MY best experiences of the conference.
LUCY BURDETTE: I still stink at working a crowd:(.
I love talking with people and have no problems with one on ones or small groups, but a big group simply reduces me to Junior High School shyness. But those are all good ideas, and I swear next time I'll do better!
RHYS BOWEN: I remember my first Bouchercon too! I knew two people. I wasn't talking to one of them when a group came up to join us. They were going to dinner and one of the men invited me to join them. But I had already arranged to meet the other person I knew so I thanked him but said I had other plans.
As they walked away someone said to me, "You just turned down Jeffrey Deaver?"
Over the years I've found people love to talk about themselves. If I see someone standing alone or left out I ask about where they are from, which panels they have enjoyed, if they've found any good restaurants in town. It really pays to be friendly too. Another author introduced me to my wonderful agent as well.
Now I find the room sort of works itself. Hank and Deb and I sat to have a private chat at the Sheraton last week and within seconds people kept joining us until we had this big group.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yes, I loved that, Rhys! So lovely to see you both. And I treasure it, you know? Agreed, the room sort of works itself, that's a great way of putting it! And It's so--beautiful. Sorry to be sappy, but it is.
My first Bouchercon, I hid in my room. Just--hid. And had room service. And then I told myself--hey, dummy, you're here. You might as well be HERE. Now I never remember my room number, because I'm never there! Lovely!
My hint--I try to remember that no matter how shy and hesitant I am, there's someone else who feels even more that way . And what if I can make them have a better time?
I say to myself: MINGLE! And LISTEN. And introduce people to each other. This is our one chance to be in the world, you know? Might as well have fun--since it our decision.
And yes, one glass of wine, then water. (Usually, actually, no wine. Until later.)
It's still intimidating. But now...it's like a treasure hunt.
HALLIE: So now we turn it over to you... what are your hard-earned tips for making yourself and others comfortable in a crowd of strangers?