I used to be terrible at talking to people. In fact, I was terrible at anything social. My strategy for parties was to stick close to one friend. I’d follow them like a puppy dog if need be. My strategy for everything else was to only talk to people I already knew.
I was not just an introvert. Introverts are often great socially; they just like it in short bursts. I was an introvert who was shite at talking to anyone.
I’ve talked before about the value of social bravery and how I trained my skills. In the last few years I’ve become a lot more extroverted, and a lot better at talking to new people. But last week it was time to put it to the ultimate test.
Last week, for the first time, I touched down in Portland, Oregon. My mission: to take over the world.
The World Domination Summit
The occasion was the World Domination Summit, organized by the remarkable Chris Guillebeau. Chris is a powerful writer who pens a soft, honest voice but advocates big ideas. I’ll gladly admit that his (free) ebook 279 Days to Overnight Success is perhaps the single biggest influence on the shape this blog has taken.
The purpose of the World Domination Summit (WDS) was, essentially, to bring together hundreds of the most awesome people possible. I’ve really never seen anything like it. The event had the format of a conference, but it was not industry-specific, nor tied to any one issue or topic. The main thing uniting the attendees is that we believe in Chris’ message of unconventional strategies for life, work and travel.
The result is that a wide variety of people were present. Entrepreneurs and moguls, writers and artists, digital nomads, bloggers, the list goes on. Some are just starting out, others are established names. But what we all have in common is we are innovative, creative types—and we take no prisoners.
500 of your Biggest Fans
Chris frames all of his greatest projects in terms of changing the world. Out of the many people using that phrase, he’s one of the few I believe.
But the people I met at WDS have the same ambition. Every person there has some kind of project or dream, and they’re actually doing them. (They’re also very ExPoMod.) The effect? When you talk about your wildest, craziest dream, what you get is a sea of people pitching in with advice, suggestions, and ideas for how you can do it.
For example, my great dream is to walk from Minneapolis to South America. When I tell people about my dream, I’m used to getting a few responses:
You know it’s not safe, right?
Good luck crossing all those borders.
You won’t be able to support yourself without working that long.
Are you crazy?
With this group, the very first time I opened my mouth to talk about my dream someone pointed at a thoughtful-looking blonde guy at the next table. “Have you talked to Nate? Nate’s walking across America!” Other responses included advice on how to stay safe, suggestions for how to make a living while traveling that long, and being told I’m awesome.
You can see why I like this crowd.
But what struck me most is that the advice I got was not just rah-rah cheerleading. It was practical advice based on experience running location-independent businesses and traveling off the tourist trail.
The name “World Domination Summit” is something of a tongue-in-cheek title. No one there actually intends to rule the world. But after spending a weekend with these 500 people I can’t escape the idea that they—we, all of us—really are poised to have a lasting and profound influence on the world.
Weapon of Choice
When I departed for WDS, I was very conscious that I was not going there for the speakers. I was going for the other attendees.
I was mindful of some advice that Colin Wright gave me about building my blog: “You should be increasing your network like a crazy person.” (Colin’s book Networking Awesomely is the only reason I have any idea how to do that.) Any regular conference-goer knows that the main allure is networking, and usually that means a lot of awkward business lunches and palming your card out to everyone you meet. But I’ve learned that inviting people to parties, buying them drinks, and getting to know them as people rather than business contacts—you know, actually making friends—is more fun, more genuine, and way more effective.
And that is why WDS was a test for me. It was one of the biggest opportunities I’ve ever had to meet people who can play a role in launching my dream. And my success or failure depended 100% upon my social skills. My newbie, fledgling social skills.
A few of the amazing people I now count as dear friends:
- James Watt, @adventuringraw. I knew James from Twitter, but had no idea that his head is a supercomputer of all things marketing. His next business project will put that knowledge to use for small business owners in an incredible new way. But even more than business talk, we really connected discussing martial arts, health, and building community. I’m amazed how much James and I have in common, and how at home I feel with him after just a few conversations.
- Tessa Zeng, @teezeng. Tessa is equal parts artist and philosopher, and the two parts dance together with uncompromising grace. One conversation with her caused me to scrap and rewrite Walk Like a God. Tessa has a unique ability to step back and see the vital role that art can play in changing minds, which is the topic of her ebook Change Creation. I’ve never seen anyone so deftly isolate what effect a work has (or doesn’t) and how to amplify it.
- Matt Langdon, @theherocc. When people ask Matt what he does for a living, he gets to say this: “I teach kids how to be heroes.” And he really does. Matt’s in-school educational program is built around the simple premise that the opposite of a hero is not a villain, it’s a bystander. With this core idea children are shown how they can make dramatic change in their schools and communities simply by speaking up instead of staying silent. My favorite thing I learned from Matt is that kids do, in fact, know the difference between a celebrity and a hero.
Social skills are the tool with the lowest failure rate. Have you ever thought about where your social skills come from, and how they got the way they are? I spent years working on mine, and many of my friends don’t believe I used to be an introvert. But my skills are still a work in progress, something I hone a little more every day.
Please leave a comment and let me know what lets you be more comfortable socially. Is there a particular experience that gave you your social skills? Or were you just born that way? I look forward to hearing what the Rogue Priest community has to say!