How to Table: A Guide for Introverts

Act as a friendly yet knowledgeable representative of the Guild - Cartoon by Jill Walters

Act as a friendly yet knowledgeable representative of the Guild

By Jill Walters, Guild Board VP of Member Services
and Polly Zetterberg, Guild volunteer

You’ve signed up for a shift at the NWIEG table at an event or conference. Maybe you’re excited for free or discounted entrance into the event. Maybe you’re making an effort to get out and network more often. Maybe you want to share the wide variety of talents held by Guild members. These are all good reasons to volunteer to represent the Guild.

Encourage table visitors to take handouts and ask questions - Cartoon by Jill Walters

Encourage table visitors to take handouts and ask questions

But wait! Aren’t you an introvert? How the heck are you supposed to make small talk with a bunch of strangers for several hours? What are you supposed to do during the downtimes? Can you just sit there with a pile of flyers and hope they magically drift into the hands of attendees?

Don’t panic. We’ve got a strategy for you and a list of ways to ensure that you, your tablemates, and the people you meet all leave happy and with a positive impression of the Guild. Despite popular belief, editors are not all a bunch of curmudgeonly pedants.

Put on Your “Guild Representative Face”

Think of it as “putting on your Guild representative face.” Actors put on different personas all the time. Salespeople have to be “on” to be successful. But these people aren’t necessarily outgoing and sociable all the time. Even the most introverted editor can make an effort to be a happy, friendly, knowledgeable representative of the Guild for a set amount of time. You don’t have to pretend to be someone else—just a slightly more outgoing version of yourself. You can do it for a few hours. When you’re done, be sure reward yourself for going outside your comfort zone.

Do Don’t
  • Wear comfortable clothing and shoes that make you feel confident when you wear them
  • Wear clothing that makes you visibly uncomfortable: anything too restrictive, too itchy, ill-fitting, etc.
  • Look professional (you are representing a professional organization after all, but you don’t need a formal suit)
  • Wear yoga pants, sweats, pajamas, old T-shirts, baggy jeans, Ugg boots or Crocs; or overly revealing or inappropriate clothes
  • Talk yourself up: tell yourself that you can do this for a few hours
  • Panic and lock yourself in a closet
  • Be prepared: research the event, read over any information provided by your volunteer coordinator ahead of time, ask questions beforehand
  • Walk in to the event with no idea what’s going on
  • If you know you will have downtimes with no table visitors (during a conference session or lunch break, for example), bring a book or other (silent) entertainment
  • Bring a book that’s so good you can’t tear yourself away from it when the downtime is over
  • Bring a water bottle, a mug of tea, or some coffee; have some mints or throat lozenges on
  • Lose your voice, resort to charades or mime

At the Event

Do Don’t
  • Put on your “Guild representative face”
  • Panic and hide in the bathroom, bury yourself in your smartphone
  • Introduce yourself to the other table volunteers if you don’t already know each other
  • Stand there stoically like a statue
  • When you arrive, ask the volunteer coordinator or previous table volunteers to give any last-minute updates, ask any remaining questions
  • Assume you know everything
  • Be present: smile and say hello to passers by, look at them in a pleasant manner
  • Hide behind your phone or a book, or gaze off into space; glare at people like they’re interrupting you
  • Use compliments as icebreakers (“What a neat bag you have!”); lighten the conversation, help them remember the Guild in a positive light
  • Silently stare at people
  • Ask people where they live, what kind of work they do or genre they specialize in
  • Brag about yourself, talk about taboo subjects
  • Turn your phone to silent, or better yet, turn it off completely
  • Check your phone constantly (unless you’re supposed to be live-tweeting the event or there’s some sort of emergency)
  • Act as a friendly yet knowledgeable representative of the Guild
  • Enforce the stereotype that all editors are a bunch of pedantic introverts
  • Be confident in your ability to make people smile while giving them valuable information
  • Pout, mumble, get flustered
  • Speak clearly and project your voice when necessary
  • Make table visitors try to guess what you’re trying to say
  • Encourage table visitors to take handouts and ask questions; hand them the appropriate materials if they show interest
  • Shove handouts at people without explanation, dodge questions, hide beneath the table
  • Network on behalf of the Guild, recommend Guild members to table visitors
  • Use the table as a platform to promote yourself, and only yourself

After Your Shift

Do Don’t
  • Reward yourself: you did it! Acknowledge that you did something that took you out of your normal range of comfort, and you survived!
  • Collapse in relief in front of the table when your shift is over—it wasn’t that bad, was it?

If you are interested in testing out these tips in real life, the Guild still needs three volunteers for Wordstock in Portland on November 5, 2016. Please contact with “Wordstock Volunteer” in the subject line for more information, and keep an eye on the Guild listserv for additional volunteer opportunities.

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