For the first four years of Ben's life, Ben would just point and grunt as his preferred method of communication. As a result, Ben's parents worried that he was developmentally challenged in some way and that he'd never learn to talk.
Then, one day he suddenly started speaking in complete sentences and all was well.
This story sums Ben's personality up perfectly. Unless he can form a perfect thought or statement, he won't usually talk. And, unless he feels like he has something worthwhile to say, he's fine just listening.
Then, there's me. I often find myself blurting out whatever comes into my mind, be it relevant or a complete non sequitur.
While Ben and I are extremely different in our conversational behaviors, we do share two major traits: (1) We're both horrible at making small talk with acquaintances or strangers (2) We're sometimes painfully shy to the point that we can't approach anyone -- no matter if we really want to speak with them.
During the last four years, we've had to learn to get over these shortcomings and it's been fairly difficult. I think it's only been in the last year that I've gained enough confidence to be able to approach someone at a conference or event and not feel paralyzed with the fear that the person has no desire to talk or interact with me.
The reason I write about this is because of an observation I made during Web 2.0. In reflecting on why more people seemed to speak me, I realized that it was directly related to the amount of effort I made in reaching out to other people. It's a "no d'uh" sort of discovery, but one that has taken a long time to reach.
From my experiences attending marketing conferences and executive conferences, I can say that when I attend technology conferences, the attendees are a very unique beast. You've got brilliant people mixed with brilliant, wealthy people mixed in with brilliant people who have an ample sprinkling of socially dysfunctional traits. I won't claim that I'm brilliant or wealthy, but I've got my good share of social dysfunction. The bad part is that this dysfunction can come across as standoffishness.
I've been trying to figure out what exactly made Web 2.0 different enough that I was more comfortable approaching people. Funnily enough, it wasn't the attendees or the schedule or anything about Six Apart -- it was something quite accidental, I think. The conference was incredibly crowded and the space didn't accommodate the numbers of attendees well. It was almost impossible not to bump into someone. Stressful at times, if you're a tad bit claustrophobic, the confined space forced people to mingle more. I'm not sure I'd recommend small spaces, large groups as a recipe for interaction but I think that for this conference (going for the vibe that there is a lot of buzz and activity right now), it worked.