A Behind-The-Scenes Tour of my Brain Going to a Conference


When I tell people what I do, often they’ll say, “Oh I hate going to networking events!” Here’s the thing: so do I.

They can feel like everyone’s trying to sell you their thing, plus they tend to have snacks at a time meant for dinner, so my hunger gets confused.

But a conference? I bloody love a conference. Have done since I started going to student radio conferences in the 90s, and now love going to ones where I meet other people like me, who are trying to use their powers for good. I love the learning. I *LOVE the meeting people. I love that sometimes, I get to show off a bit. But…

…in spite of of all that, I kind of emotionally go through the ringer before each one.

This weekend, I’m at World Domination Summit – which, while it sounds like a Lex Luthor/Doctor Evil meetup, is actually speakers, meetings and mini-events for 3000 entrepreneurs, who are all trying to make the world a better place.

In celebration, here’s a behind-the-scenes peek at my brain, in the run-up to going to, and at the start of, a conference. (I stopped there because after that, it’s mostly me just having a rad time and thinking, “THIS IS SO FUN GOSH I’M TIRED NOW”, which I don’t think would be that exciting for you to read).


Two months before:

Consider buying ticket to conference. Do some internet research for reviews. People seem to be into it. Promising.
Buy ticket.

Two minutes later:

PANIC. Was it too much to spend on a ticket to a conference? Do I even want to go? I won’t know anyone. Oh god. Oh god.

Sit self down. Marsha: breathe. It will be fine. It is always fine.

Six weeks before:

I’ll book my flights and accommodation soon. So early! I’m going to get SUCH a cheap deal. I’m so smart.

One month before:

Plan exact outfits for each day.

Day one: I’m fun but approachable! Screen Shot 2014-07-09 at 2.58.51 PM
Day two: Look, I’m actually SO stylish, somewhat classy and a bit original, but still approachable!
Day three: Even when I’m being a bit dressed down and casual, I’m stylish and original – but still really approachable!

Save list in Evernote. Feel like the sort of person who really has her life together.

Two weeks before:

Right! Time to book accommodation and tickets!

Five days before:

Begin HOURS of panicky research on Tripadvisor.
Finally find the perfect place to stay.
Call them: no vacancies.

Research further and find an acceptable place. Also booked.

Oh god oh god everywhere is booked
Eventually decide to shell out much more than intended on needlessly fancy hotel in effort not to be 50 minutes bus ride from conference (lesson learned hard way)

Nerves about surely impending regret.

But accommodation is booked! Relief. Excitement. Anticipation!

Realise travel also need to be booked. PANIC.

Repeat above steps for flights and airport buses.

On journey to conference: Aeroplane window

So excited! Love travelling! It’s going to be SO fun! I’ll meet SO many nice people! I’ll have the BEST time!

Day before conference:

I‘m going to go to bed at 9pm and get ten hours’ sleep! Then I’ll get up tomorrow at 6.45am, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed! I’ll meditate for 30 minutes! Then I’ll go for a run! Then I’ll have a gentle, comfortable shower! Then I’ll have a leisurely breakfast! Then I’ll walk to the conference centre, so I have that “I’ve just been in the fresh air” glow! And because I’m early, it’ll be SO EASY to make friends!


Night before conference:



Morning of conference:


Throw self in shower. Realise dress is very creased. Can’t work iron. No time to find out how. Put it on and stand in still-steamy bathroom in hope that will work.
Wolf down insufficient breakfast.
Discover stain on dress. Decide to hold hand carefully in front wherever possible.

Oh god oh god oh god. I don’t know anyone going to this thing. Why didn’t I try and find someone who was going? They’re all going to know each other. I’m going to be the only Norma No-Friends.

Why did I choose to wear this scrappy cotton dress and non-fancy flat shoes? Everyone else is going to be in smart Business Casual. It will be all stilettos and well-cut power suits. They will think I’m a dirtbag. They’ll laugh at me when I go to the toilet. They’ll laugh at me for calling it a “toilet”.

I should put make-up on.

INSANELY, decide to try out new eyeliner style, make up extreme
never-before tried, even though I know I have zero skill in this area and I REALLY don’t have the time. Looks terrible. Wipe it off. Reapply simple make up. So nervous that I smudge this all over now-greasy face. Use q-tips to get it off. Throw a couple in my bag for later accidents.

Too late to walk or get bus. Order taxi to conference. Taxi takes 8 minutes to come. While waiting, look out the window and sweat.

Ask taxi driver to stop at the drugstore so I can buy some tights. Only colour left is Natural Tan (“natural” only to a daily sunbed user). Buy them anyway.
Get back in taxi. Put on tights in back of cab, hoping driver doesn’t see my knickers.
Stuck in traffic. Decided to pay, get out and run the rest of the way there.

Arrive at conference centre sweating profusely because of running and tights
Panickedly ask directions from man on reception. Remember to smile and ask nicely (because: ALWAYS be lovely to all the staff). He has the decency to be playfully flirty (in manner of grandpa towards nursing staff) which somewhat reduces stress levels.

Get to the relevant floor, all the while *sure I’m lost.

Spot the conference!

Stand in registration line which – blessedly! – has other people in, even 20 minutes after the start time.

Panic level at not knowing anyone and soon being faced with a room full of strangers and nothing to do: YELLOW ALERT.

Try smiling at two ladies in front of me in the hopes that we might chat. They smile politely back but are clearly DEEP in conversation about someone else they know and I don’t.

Get to registration. Discover my name tag says MARSIER SHADUN. Shyly ask if I might change it. Get given a blank name tag and a sharpie. Write Marsha Shandur as neatly as I can. Realise it’s sloping down the name tag. Clutch at the idea that it might make me seem special and different. (suspect it just makes me look as low-rent as my non-fancy frock). Steal sharpie.

Pick up a program.

Fan self with program. Smile. Sweat.


Enter conference hall. Oh god. 

Hit with wall of sound as hundreds of people chat, none of whom look familiar. Panic level at not knowing anyone and being faced right now with a room full of strangers and nothing to do: RED ALERT.

Breathe. Smile, and sneak hands onto hips, remembering Amy Cuddy’s research that shows this will change my brain chemistry to make me happier, calmer and braver.

Go to snack table to make a cup of tea.
Another lady is making tea.

“Is this one the hot water?” I ask – knowing it is, but needing an in.
“Yep – though I don’t know that it’s very hot!”, she smiles.
Try and remind myself that she is almost certainly as nervous as I am, and will most likely welcome me starting a chat.

“Whereabouts are you staying?” I venture.
“At the Radisson, a couple of blocks from here”. Think I sense relief – followed by awkward nervousness. She’s not going for a question in response. I’m going back in.

“Have you been to this conference before?”
“No, this is my first time”
“Me too. I’m really excited about the line-up. Apparently Erika Lyremark is an amazing speaker, I’ve just been reading her book and I really like her style of advice, very no-nonsense. Do you know much about any of the speakers?”
“Yeah, a bit – I read Erika’s blog..”
“What do you like about it…?”

And we’re off!
A nice, short chat. They announce the first session, so we whisper “nice to meet you”s, then I run to an empty seat.

“Sorry…” says the lady next to it, “That seats taken”.
“No worries!” I smile as if I’m not crushed (No shame! I tell myself. Soldier on! No one’s thinking about you as much as you are!), and finally find a seat that is next to another solo flyer, and not taken.

The first session begins and at last I can relax. pull my finger


The first initiating a conversation is done. I know now that the next one will be slightly less scary, then the third even less, then by lunchtime, I’ll be rolling. It will feel mostly normal to start talking to strangers, and I’ll have ramped the Panic Alerts right down to… what comes below blue? White? Let’s say white.

This is pretty much what happens for me at every conference I go to. I wanted to tell you, so that you know it’s PERFECTLY ok to feel like this – and that feeling like this is not a reason to avoid going to events on your own.

I regularly put myself through this emotional roller-coaster because history teaches me that it’s going to be fine – because it’s always fine. And the highs always far outweigh the lows. I meet SO many nice people. I have the BEST time.

Over To You

How are you before going to events on your own? Do you go through any of this? Or are you cooler and calmer than me? I’d love to know – leave a comment below and tell me!

If you know anyone going to a conference soon and want to share this with them, you can do that, using one of the round buttons below. Or you can tweet this sentence:

This is your brain on CONFERENCE
(or @yesyesmarsha’s, at least):
click HERE to tweet this!)


You rule,

xx (Yes Yes) Marsha


PS want to know my best-ever client secret – and get even more advice, tips, plus stories that I won’t put on the internet? Come and join the Yes Yes Family – it’s free! Just pop your details in below:

Photo credits: Jeffrey, Johan Larsson, @sahxic < twitter & A is for Angie, all via Compfight cc.


  • Lacey

    Reply Reply July 10, 2014

    I force myself into uncomfortable situations too! I know it’s the only way to grow and you’re right, they always turn out to be less scary than I thought it was going to be in my head. I recently went to a Toast Masters meeting (where people network, give short speeches and work on their speaking skills together). I was so nervous to go but no body bit me so there’s that, plus I had a great time so I am looking forward to the next meeting. I will still be nervous, but so is everyone else

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Marsha Shandur

      Reply Reply July 11, 2014

      ha ha ha, glad nobody bit you! WELL DONE YOU for going out and doing scary things! They get much less scary as you do them :)


  • This made me smile. Sending you a fucking vat of vodka –

    Ash :)

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Marsha Shandur

      Reply Reply July 15, 2014

      Ash! From such great heights, thank you!

      PS I went through literally every one of these steps immediately after I wrote them, this last weekend.

  • Holly

    Reply Reply July 20, 2014

    You never cease to make me laugh. I was actually sending you an email when I got your auto-responded and thought to myself, “well I actually do miss Marsha, I’m gonna hop on over to her site to watch one of her hysterical videos.” 10 mins later I can’t wipe this huge smile off my face.

    You are the best – Squeeze.

    As for me, I’m fine before I get there, then as soon as I get there – my dork goblin pops out and is all like pfffff no one is going to talk to us. Panic – Act cool – Pretend you are digging around in your purse or doing important things on your phone until someone approaches.

    • Marsha

      Reply Reply July 27, 2014

      Digging around in your purse – YES! That’s definitely something I’ve done.

      As a point of interest, much of the above is based on going to Off The Charts Live. The moment when I stopped panicking? Was when I saw you…

      • Holly

        Reply Reply July 28, 2014

        YAY!! It’s always nice to see a friendly face.

  • Kelly McCausey

    Reply Reply August 17, 2014

    I’ve never actually ventured out to a conference without a travel buddy (yet) so I admire you for doing it!

    Even with a friend along, it’s always an adventure hitting up a new event – not knowing what the culture will be like, whether the format will feel comfortable or not.

    I’ll share this post with some of my peeps – hopefully it will give them courage!

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Marsha Shandur

      Reply Reply August 17, 2014

      Hey Kelly!

      Thanks – I do think it helps to know that feeling nervous is perfectly normal and actually very common.

      Thanks for sharing the post!

  • Stacey Sherman

    Reply Reply April 8, 2015

    This is pretty much the exact conversation my brain has before events. Thank you for sharing and letting me know that talking to myself is actually completely normal. :)

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