I finally figured out Venture Cafe, after about two years of attending off-and-on.
Venture Cafe is a weekly mingling event in St. Louis's tech center. They use words like "collisions" and "innovators" to describe what they do, which in many contexts can be really annoying, but here it fits. It's a roughly three-hour event, with several concurrent presentations. Sometimes I'll go to the presentations, but not that often. Mostly I go to talk to people out in the halls. I do that because it's interesting to talk to people—but also because it's really hard for me. I find one-on-one or one-on-few conversations to be incredibly difficult, much harder than getting on stage in front of many. So I sometimes go to Venture Cafe to force myself to do that.
I hadn't gone for a few months, in spite of their being a monthly satellite Venture Cafe at the Danforth Plant Science Center which is walking distance from where I live. I want to go, but I don't want to go. It's easy to find excuses not to go. It's too sunny. It's too cloudy. &c.
Last week I figured out a way to hack that: the Venture Cafe organizers were looking for volunteers, especially for this week when they had a regular Tuesday Venture Cafe plus one at the Danforth plus hosting representatives from eight other Venture Cafe organizations around the world. Perfect. I jumped on that—for both events. I got to help the organization and talk to tons of people at check-in and as a bartender. Win-win.
I can't believe I never thought of that before. It's like playing a trick on myself. Whatever hangups I might have about talking to people are irrelevant because it's more or less my job to talk to them. And it doesn't matter if I get self-conscious about having to say anything about myself or what I do or what I work on because while I'm there as a volunteer what I do and what I work on is the event. It's a ludicrously simple trick. I'm sure it has analogues elsewhere. Don't step into the water slowly—dive right into it.