When I tell people I know now that I used to be the quiet one when I was a kid, nobody believes me. It's completely true! I don't know when I made the transition from "don't talk to anybody" to "talk to everybody", but I think it was sometime in college. Having just come back from my third Photoshop World, and hearing people tell me, "wow, you know everybody," makes me happy. Also hearing from people "I went to Photoshop World by myself, didn't know anybody, and had a horrible time," made me realize I should share what how I got to this point.
When I went to my first Photoshop World a year ago, I didn't know ANYBODY. Not kidding. I went by myself. I knew one person's name from the NAPP forum, but didn't run into him until later in the week. A year later, I had so many people I wanted to see, I had the two days before the conference even started planned.
Photo by Erik Valind
Stop Caring So Much What Other People Think
A lot of people are so worried if someone else will or will not like them, that they won't even take the chance to go talk to them. Well, you're not talking to them now, so if they don't like you and don't want to talk to you in the future, you're not any worse off. And seriously, are you happy just sitting there miserable not talking to anybody?
A quick story. I had just walked into the tweetup with my friend Bill, and walked by a table with random people sitting at it. As we walked by, I smiled at them. One of them jumped up and said, "hi, I'm Matt, this is my first PSW." I talked to him for a few minutes, and also throughout the tweetup. Later in the week, I was participating in one of those vendor expo hall "be the first 5 people to X booth and you'll win Y" things. I had been standing next to the booth, so was the first one there. Three others showed up quickly. I saw Matt talking to someone on the other side of the booth, and they were pointing him over to us. I yelled his name, he heard me, ran over, and became the 5th person. I had met him at the tweetup, so was able to help him later in the week win a cool bag.
Jump in to a Conversation
Obviously not every venue is easy to do this in, but at PSW, where you're going to have something in common with most everybody, jump into a conversation. Now you don't have to talk immediately, but honestly I've found a lot of times it's as easy as going up to a group, listening to what they're saying, jump in when possible, and introduce yourself. A simple, "hi, I'm so-and-so - I don't know you" usually works. I've never found a group of people that didn't want to meet other new people. The Tweetup on Tuesday night is a great place to do this.
Talk to People in Your Classes
Don't get to a class session late, and don't sit by yourself. Get there early, sit around other people, and try and engage them in conversation. If they brush you off, so what. If they don't, you'll know somebody. I've met several people at PSW that way that I talk to constantly.
Photo by Trish Logan
Don't Do Non-PSW Things Unless It's With Other People
Stay in the expo hall until it closes - get to know the vendors that you're interested in. Don't hang by yourself at the pool. You're at Photoshop World, you can hang by a pool anywhere. Hear about an unofficial gathering which is open to everyone such as a photowalk? Do it! I saw a bunch of photowalks being planned on the NAPP forums and the #psw hashtag. It's a great way to meet people.
Get to Know the Vendors
While this might not work all the time depending on how crowded their booth it, don't just watch the software demo, actually talk to the vendor. Ask questions about the product, tell them how you're planning on using it.
Don't Be a Fanboi to the Instructors
All the instructors are normal people who just happen to be really good at something. I'm sure if asked, they'd prefer it if people didn't freak out when they saw them. Obviously it's ok to say "hi, I really enjoyed your class" if you see them outside of class, or ask them a question, but don't do the "OMG OMG OMG You're (insert random instructor here)!!!! You're AWESOME! I LUV YOU!!!". Bonus tip: if you see them at the bar, offer to buy them a drink.
Get on Social Media
Many, many, MANY attendees of PSW are on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus. Twitter even has the #psw hashtag. There are also the NAPP forums if you're a member. Find some of these people beforehand, start following them, comment on their posts, and trust me, they'll be happy to see a familiar name at PSW. I was waiting for an onOne Software demo to start, when somebody tapped me on the shoulder and said he recognized my name from Google Plus.
Find Something in Common
Everybody has a PSW nametag on. See somebody from the same state? Same city? Like someone's t-shirt? Like someone's camera? Tell them! It's an immediate conversation starter. I've so far only had 1 person not be open to this. It actually happened on this PSW. I saw someone with a nametag from Winter Park, CO, so I said, "I'm from Colorado and go to Winter Park all the time, where about do you live there?" He replied, "good for you." So I left. And that goes back to my "stop caring what other people think" above. He obviously wasn't open to conversation, so move on to the next person.
For a lot of people, all of this will definitely be out of your comfort zone, but it's a great way to meet new people in an unfamiliar setting.