For a whole host of reasons, conferences and events can be difficult places for introverts.
The masses of people, the unfamiliar surroundings, the small talk, meeting new people; this can be a stressful and exhausting experience for those with introverted tendencies. However we appreciate that the benefits of these events far outweigh the discomfort we feel and so we still attend them and make the most.
I used to measure as a pretty consistent introvert. However, more recently, as I’ve gained some confidence and found ways to embrace elements of my personality I was once nervous about, I test more on the side of being an ambivert – sitting on the fence. That feels about right too. This is not a scientific statement and I write it entirely without anything other than anecdotal evidence but they say life shapes you, and I think it can alter your personality in terms of introversion/extroversion too.
Before I digress entirely, the reason I’m explaining this is because I still feel very much introverted with new experiences. Also, I’ve been to a lot of conferences and events in the last 3 years, not least because I organise some and speak at others and so, I’ve learned a thing or two about surviving them despite my (now) occasional introverted nature.
So here’s some tips to those introverts who are attending a conference or event in the future.
1. Pre-Conference Planning/Research
I find that the more I know about the event, the more comfortable I feel. I often put together schedules and plans of where I need to be and at what time including what room within the conference centre I need to be at, as this helps me feel more prepared. If I’m staying overnight I’ll work out the routes to and from the venue to the hotel/car park/train station etc, basically to understand anything that could knock me off schedule. I also like to see the surroundings in advance if possible so I’ll look at pictures of the venue on the internet. This information helps me become familiar with what to expect, which in turn helps calm any nerves and make me feel more relaxed, plus it helps me keep on track while I’m there.
2. Plan in ‘recovery’ time.
Due to the stress/anxiety/discomfort introverts can often feel at conferences and events, more brain power is used and as such more energy is burned. Factoring in recovery time to go and recharge batteries is, for me, a must. This might be a 15 minute break somewhere quiet in the conference hall where I can sit alone and catch up on social media, or head back to my hotel room for lunch to have some peace and quiet. Recovery time is important, and will help you feel refreshed for the rest of the day.
3. If you want to attend social fringe events, find out if you’ll know anyone thats also going to be there.
Multiple day conferences usually have a healthy programme of social events going on in nearby bars and restaurants in the evenings. If you do decide to attend something from the social programme but are apprehensive, find out if anyone you know will be attending, drop them a line and meet them beforehand, or agree where you’ll be meeting them once you get to the venue. You’ll feel comforted knowing that you won’t be alone as you’ll know at least one person there.
4. Take headphones
This may come across as a little rude, but sometimes, small talk with a stranger is the last thing I want. If I have a lengthy wait between sessions and I’m hanging around, sometimes nice and friendly people will want to come and chat to me. Not all the time, but sometimes, maybe when I’m overwhelmed by the event, I don’t want to talk to anyone. It’s nothing personal, it’s just the way I am. So I sit somewhere quietly and put my headphones on. Headphones are great as a polite way of letting people know, that you want to block away the world for a little while.
5. Brace yourself for discomfort and go with the flow
I’m fine being fluid in terms of going with the flow, as long as I’ve reasonably mentally prepared myself to do that. If I establish that a situation might arise where my schedule might go off course, where small talk might occur or when I may attend something socially that I hadn’t planned, then I’ll be fine as it won’t be a complete surprise to me. I know as an introvert I can’t be completely protected from uncomfortable situations but sometimes you have to just go with the flow and step out of your comfort zone as you might just enjoy it.
6. Be You.
You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do at a conference. You don’t have to attend social events, go to networking receptions or pretend to be an extrovert out of fear you’ll not get the same experience as other people at the conference. Be yourself, and do what you want.
The key element for you as a conference attendee is to make it the best personal experience you can make it, for YOU. If that means being a periphery attendee, hanging at the back, avoiding social events and being at conference sessions super early, then so be it, it’s entirely up to you. Design your programme just the way you want, and you’ll get the conference experience, that will best benefit you. But don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone a little as you never know what might happen by doing so.
May the force be with you…..