Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Do you attend conferences and try to make connections there in English?

Do you find it hard to talk to or connect with others in this somewhat formal setting especially when people are speaking English?

If you have struggled with talking to others or getting to know them at business or work conferences, you are not alone.

We’re going to talk about why conferences can be hard when it comes to talking to people, and how you can work past that and make the connections you are looking for.

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Dear Lindsay and Michelle,

Hi there! I am a loyal fan of your podcast from Iran. It’s been almost six months since I discovered your podcast and from then on, I have been listening to your podcast episodes every day. You cannot imagine how much you have helped me to improve my English skills especially listening!

I have a question for you two although I don’t know if this is the right place to ask it. I have to work with foreigners due to my job (I am a medical professional and faculty member). I attend many conferences every year and manage easily to contact with my peers from other countries. However I have always had problems in contacting with my American colleagues for some reason.

No matter how hard I try to be in touch with them or become their friend, I always feel they cannot be reached very easily. I don’t know if this is because of my background and wonder if it is that Americans don’t like Iranians. I wonder if they have some sort of bubble around them as you have talked about before.

For example, I do not know how to react to them–should I smile or be serious? Should I try to have sense of humor? How can I go further than just a professional contact and actually become their friend? Unfortunately I do not have enough confidence to approach them.

I usually visit with them in conference meetings so the atmosphere is always formal, with the only exception being lunch time. I do not know if this a question that can be answered on your podcast, but I thought that I would try.

Thanks a lot for all that you do,


A Bit of Background

First of all, questions are always welcome on the All Ears English Podcast. Please send your questions to

Americans do like Iranians, but it’s hard to know because there are unfortunately always people who dislike others for a variety of reasons.

Whether it’s because of race, nationality, religion, or any other factor there are reasons why people may not get along.

Generally speaking though, Americans don’t have any dislike towards Iranians.

Most people would never want others to feel that way, and so hopefully this is an isolated incident or something within that atmosphere that you’re in.

This question is so important though when it comes to building confidence.

We’ve done a few episodes on this that you can reference which may be quite helpful:

Though there are other aspects to this topic and to the question, the focus today is how to gain confidence.

These episodes can help you as a good starting point if you are attending a business conference in English.

Breaking Through The Barriers

It was mentioned before that sometimes it seems like people are in their own little bubble.

They often come together as a group if they work in the same office so it may be hard to connect with people when they are in a group like this.

This may be because people are busy or shy, or that they get focused on their own life.

Conferences can be like this too where people tend to stay within the comfort of their own bubble.

It may be though that the person you are looking at is shy, and they may be waiting for you to approach them.

Are they talking with each other?

It may also be that sometimes people are cliquey and so they only stick with the people that they know.

Sometimes you have to assess the situation to decide what may really be going on there.

How Can You Handle This?

So ultimately it comes down to what can you do?

There are a couple of things that you can do to try and stay ahead of this and work to make important connections.

  • You be the one to talk: This isn’t always easy but it can really work well for you. This means that you have to show confidence and get in there and take the first step, but that may really pay off in the end. You can open by saying something like “Have you had the chance to explore the area yet?” You could even say something catered to the conference itself like “What parts of the conference are you attending? I think _____ sounds interesting!”
  • Be yourself: Above all else, be yourself. Don’t try to be somebody or something that you’re not. If you are a naturally funny person, then use that sense of humor to try to make connections. Don’t force it or try too hard if you’re not a naturally funny person. If however you do have a good sense of humor, then use that to try to break the ice and get a conversation going.
  • Say hi to everyone: Even if you feel awkward, just go for it! Show others that you are friendly and approachable. You’ll notice that when you do this at conferences people smile and open up. You have to acknowledge each other, and if you say hi it puts people at ease. Sometimes people are too serious or focused on their phone, and a simple hi can go a long way.

These tips can help you to get conversation going at conferences.

This is also a great way to start making important connections, and in the process building up your confidence as well.

It Starts With Confidence

The focus of all of this is building confidence, and that’s what you have to remember.

It is not necessarily about the specific language, but it’s about figuring out ways to make true connections.

It’s about others, it’s not about you and that’s important to remember.

People are “in their own world” most of the time and so they are probably focused on their own thing.

If you show confidence and are the person who puts forth the effort, you may be surprised at the outcome.

You never know what somebody is going through or what they are feeling, and so approaching them may be just what they need.

Sometimes gaining confidence and being the one to approach somebody else may really work to your favor.

You never know until you try, and you may have so much to gain through this.


Conferences can be kind of awkward in general, so it’s important to work around that you can always look at the attendance list ahead of time and contact specific people that you want to meet. Set up a time to have coffee with them between the sessions.

This will help you feel more connected.

Another great idea is to organize a meetup at the conference so that you can connect with a smaller community that has something in common. For example, when Lindsay attended the Podcast Movement conference in 2019, she attended a women’s podcasting group and this provided a less intimidating space to connect.

Americans may be shy, or in a bubble, but don’t let that stop you.

Be the friendliest person you can be and be YOURSELF.

It’s all about finding ways to connect, and now you have a start on that.

This will help you get the most benefit from the conference and will help you get ahead in your career in English.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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