The Introvert's Guide to NAB
This year will be my 4th time attending the NAB Show in Vegas. Every time (after the first year), I've figured I had read and documented everything anyone would ever need to know to get the most out of the trip. And then every time it's over and I think about it, I realize I was wrong. When it comes to human interaction in one of the weirdest places on earth, there's always room for improvement.
The south hall IS the stuff of nightmares for shy people, but it's also super rad once you get inside.
If last year's "prepare yourself for NAB" article ("NAB Show Guide to Thriving, Instead of Just Surviving") was a 200 level class, consider this the last course you need to graduate. Until I rewrite the curriculum, anyway. Going from talking physical preparedness and emotional wellness in years past, this guide dives a little deeper into balancing what seems to be a hot label to give yourself these days: being an introvert.
Creativity is linked to introversion and the traits introverts carry -- like solitude, intuition and periods of self-reflection. In the plainest definition, introverts get their energy from being alone, whereas extroverts are stimulated by crowds.
It's good to recognize what makes you happy (and doesn't) and act accordingly to manage your own well-being. But too often -- especially at huge trade shows full of strange people, like NAB -- people who fall on the introvert side of things begin to use it as an excuse when in reality, insecurities and shyness are keeping them from actually thriving in this environment. They give themselves an "out" because "I'm an introvert, man. I don't wanna talk to all those people."
A doom-filled sight for many, undoubtedly.
Shyness is real, and social anxiety is its own thing to be managed carefully, but think carefully when it comes to big conferences. Are you selling yourself short before you give yourself a chance to warm up?
And on the other side of things, are you pushing yourself too hard in order to overcompensate for your perceived introversion? SHOULD you take a break? Are you running on empty, socially? There's a delicate balance between pushing yourself and pushing yourself too much when it comes to an event like NAB.
Talk to people even when your instincts are telling you not to talk to people.
Events like #postchat help break the ice, bringing Twitter chats to real life.
This is generally good life advice for anyone that has a difficult time acclimating to crowds. The best and most important part of NAB for most of us is the opportunity to connect with industry peers from around the country and world. So if you go to a networking event and stand quietly off to the side, what's the point?
Here's a gigantic secret: pretty much nobody at that networking event loves starting a conversation with a stranger. But pretty much everybody that does is glad for it, and a fraction of them will have met someone that can change the course of their career.
Insist your way into a booth (and in front of a booth worker) when you need information.
As important as networking is, you're probably going to NAB with some questions or concerns in mind. Like maybe your boss asked you to research new storage solutions for your facility and make recommendations, and maybe you've got some products in mind but you really don't know if they'll work for your very specific needs.
Taking the time to find and meet you know from sites like Creative COW (like Shane Ross) is worth the effort of casting shyness aside.
Great news! You're in the frigging epicenter of nerd knowledge, surrounded by people that can answer those questions for you and then continue talking about things for another five minutes.
But I constantly see people intimidated by the booth spaces and crowds, giving up before they even find a company representative to speak with. "They're too busy, they don't care." That's crazy. You flew how far to stop ten feet before the person that holds all the answers?
Forget that. Make a list of things you want and NEED to know. Make a separate list of companies. Find an exhibit hall map. (Here's a terrific interactive one.) Go to each booth you've identified, and don't leave until you have what you need. The booth workers desperately want to talk to somebody who actually cares about their stuff, believe me.
But yes, they ARE busy. Ask around until you can get on someone's radar, and they'll happily speak to you as quickly as they can.
From hiding in a hotel room to actively covering NAB, I'm a living example of how you can hold yourself back until you don't.
Build solitude into your day instead of crashing at the end.
Who wouldn't need some quiet time after hanging out in strobe lights for a few hours?
I've noticed a lot of people (including myself) have a tendency to do NAB at 100% all day long, and then crash hard at night. Each time you do this, it makes the next morning progressively more difficult.
I think the reason it happens is because a person (like me) gets up and says yes, I can manage to do 1000 things today! But then once evening hits, my social (and physical) gauge is running pretty low. Then crashing occurs.
It's hard to pace yourself throughout the day, but I've found that actually scheduling blocks of quiet or solitude (like quietly reading or actually going back to your room for a power nap) makes a huge difference to the rest of the day.
There are also cool things happening in the evening in Vegas. Lots of networking opportunities. Don't run yourself ragged all day and miss every single opportunity you have to relax with friends at night.
You can't possibly do everything, so don't even try. It's okay to miss things.
Lots of first-timers look at the NAB agenda and wonder how they can possibly do all these things. Newsflash: you can't, so don't even try. Let go of that thought right now.
In fact, embrace the fact you will miss things. How often do you have so many social events or workshops thrown at you that you can't even consider attending half of them? Probably almost never. Don't let the sheer number of events overwhelm you into being paralyzed from attending any at all, or intimidate you into pushing yourself too far. I tend to push myself harder to go out even when I'm tired, but I try to recognize if I'm truly tired, or if I'm just trying to fall back into habits and hide in my shell.
Everyone is kind of a dork.
One big thing that prevents people from taking advantage of the social aspects of NAB is the fear that people won't like them or they just won't fit in. Nobody wants to be judged on their personality or knowledge or ANYTHING, but here's another gigantic trade secret: pretty much everyone in video production is kind of a huge dork.
And I mean that in the most loving way possible. You are among your people. Embrace this! You're surrounded by thousands of people that have an opinion on codecs! Even better, most of them are curious what YOUR opinion is on codecs! Remember that you're all cut from the same cloth, and you all have dozens of great work stories to share: triumphs, disasters, or maybe just what you saw in the exhibit hall that day. Ask people what they do and you'll learn a lot about the different aspects of video production each time you do.
And your tiny little video production world will grow a little bit too.
Don't be a jerkface.
The one point from last year's advice definitely worth repeating every year: don't be a jerkface. Obviously I mean be nice to everyone because you want them to be nice to you, but I'm also talking about keeping your inherent grumpiness in check. People who are inclined to be shy or introverted and push themselves a little further than they should may find they're officially running on empty. And when you're out of gas, your good judgement is one of the first things to go.
To this end, keep yourself fed and sufficiently hydrated through the week, and try your best to approach each new social interaction like you haven't just talked to a bunch of other people. If you feel your patience running low, take a time out to recharge.
A solitary drink and video poker was one way I recharged Vegas-style -- extra efficient because it was mostly water.
Here's the thing to remember. The very first conference I ever went to (which was a small regional conference about 1/1000000th the size of NAB), I found myself way too intimidated by being alone among strangers to ever socialize with anyone. When I wasn't in workshops, I was in my room. I thought to myself "ah yes, I'm just not the kind of person that socializes with people at these things. I'm a loner, an introvert by nature. That's all."
That's BS, dudes. When I went to NAB in 2012, I was fairly freaked out about it, and I made a major effort to push myself into situations I would usually have run as fast as possible in the opposite direction from just a couple years before. And it's made all the difference in my career path because the connections I make at NAB serve me throughout the year, professionally and personally.
So please, take a break when you need it. Just don't excuse yourself from experiencing the best of what NAB has to offer on the basis of a label you've applied to yourself.