Monday, September 5, 2016

An Introvert's Guide to Surviving a Conference

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I am by no means shy. I enjoy talking about a common passion or shared interest. Yet interacting with people sucks the energy out of me. The idea of a room filled with strangers is exciting and exhausting all at the same time. These opposing forces are something only an introvert like me may understand.


I have accepted my inward-facing fate, but there are times it can be a challenge even on a professional level. Think networking events and conferences.

Navigating a conference is a tricky endeavor. You may be building a personal brand. Perhaps you are under pressure to represent your company on a national stage. Plus, there are an overwhelming number of workshops and cocktail parties to choose from. Hundreds – if not thousands – of peers are ready to jump at a chance encounter you may need.


Articles fill the internet with tips intended to alleviate fears and anxiety. But those tips do not work. Often they are written by extroverts trying to help but don't understand how we operate.

An introvert's favorite activity will never include networking events, work parties, or conferences. But here's the good news: I am right there with you. Here is a look at some of the worst things I have heard and the coping strategies that help me survive.

Have a plan.

It may "only" be a conference, but for me, it's a nightmare. The bright lights, large crowds, and fast talking attendees at conferences overstimulate me. Yet despite what my inner-most self screams, I know I am not the only person who has arrived alone. There are many others in the same exact situation.

Having a plan helps my brain focus. I concentrate on my main objectives. Do I want to learn from the industry’s thought leaders but get antsy in spaces with a large number of people? Then I remind myself to embrace my listening skills and settled in the back corner of the room. (I prefer to have no one sitting behind me or to my right so I am not seated in the middle of all the action.)

Am I looking to network? Then I determine the number of people with who I would like to connect and assign myself a social "quota." 

Are there vendors I would like to approach? If so, I make a point to connect with them. After scanning the list of this year's VidCon sponsors, I decided to add a meeting with Flipagram to my to-do list. I introduced myself to the brand then followed up when I arrived home by email, a more comfortable medium for an introvert like me.

Attend a meetup.

There's a lot of stress surrounded with meeting new people. What if they don’t like me? What if I get all awkward and weird around them? Don’t pressure yourself to meet new people, because when you do, you are not your best self. Listen to your gut – if you are feeling overwhelmed, you will not make the impression you want.

Networking is a big deal at conferences. To help ease fears I have about crowds, I attend a meetup. Smaller in nature, meetups tend to be low-key and easier on my anxious self.

For example, Content Marketing World is this week. There is no shortage of events taking place during the conference. But when Maureen Jann announced she is organizing a meetup, I happily accepted her invitation. Maureen is one of several people I "met" on the #CMWorld Twitter chat. We are not strangers, so there will be no awkward introductions. We won't spend an hour working up the courage to mingle because we have already met. The weekly chat has helped me solidify relationships with several people, making the meetup something I look forward to.

Make small talk.

Marketers like to talk. And some marketers like to talk a lot. That is overwhelming for me. So rather than concerning myself with what to say, I focus on listening. Being present and attentive can make a lasting impression.

Also, many people attend a conference with a tablet or computer on hand. Many events encourage attendees to be on social media throughout the week.

Use technology to your advantage. Check out the event hashtag on Instagram. Post on a speaker’s Facebook wall and tell him or her how much you enjoyed the presentation. Strike up an online conversation and tweet someone that interests you. 

Take advantage of "every" minute.

Go here. Do this. Visit that. NOW!

Whoa, just a minute.

Conferences tend to accommodate the highly-extroverted ideals of being in the limelight. That's difficult when I prefer quietness and thoughtfulness of most introverts. So there are parties and after-parties and concerts on top of workshops and labs. By the end of the day, I am ready to cower in a corner of the convention center. But you don’t have to resort to hiding in your hotel room.

Once, I flew to San Diego to attend BlogHer. After Day One, I knew I hit my limit. Rather than suffering a meltdown the following day, I skipped the parties and spent time alone, roaming the streets of the Gaslamp Quarter. I became reinvigorated for the next conference day. Long runs along the water and reading poolside filled my evenings the remainder of the week.

Remember, you do not have to participate in what everyone else is doing. And you don’t have to get permission to do it differently either. Your time on this planet is precious. Your sanity is precious. Decompress and recharge your batteries. Don't overextend yourself.

You can do it.

While we can never overcome our introverted tendencies, we can survive conferences. They do not have to be stressful. Your experience can be inspiring and satisfying. Heed the advice of this fellow introvert. You will likely meet some smart, wonderful people and learn a thing or two.


Speaking of conferences, will you be at Content Marketing World in September? If so, find me on Twitter. I will happily tweet you “hello.”

2 comments :

  1. Awesome approach Monina. I think too many people define introvert and extrovert on the basis of being shy or outgoing. Your opening thoughts echo a definition I heard that said your an intro/extrovert based on where you gain the most energy whether its in a large group or through contemplation and small groups.

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  2. Great insight! I often struggle to find the joy in attending conferences and tend to skip the networking/socializing part of the events and then miss out on building relationships. I'll be sure to implement the approaches you shared the next time I'm feeling anxious.

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