Conference season—post-pademic—is upon us. If over that last few years of social distancing has caused you to embarce your inner introvert, and now the thought of attending a large industry event is making you sweat, here are 11 ways to help get the most from your time out.
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A few years ago, I attended an AMAZING national conference for Together Digital. The insights and inspiration I gained will last me all year long.
I’m also an introvert, and I knew going in that I’d have to build in some strategies or else I would end up drained and not enjoying myself at this FABULOUS event. I have learned a few tips and tricks along the way to make the most of my conference going experience.
NOTE: being an introvert is not a character flaw. It’s a description of your personality. My friend and fellow introvert Roy Sexton explained that introverts gain their energy by recharging through quiet, personal activities, whereas extroverts recharge by being around others.
Here are a few tips I learned from Roy combined with a few tips of my own that can help to make YOUR conference experience even more enjoyable as an introvert.
- Sign up to volunteer. Whether you are helping check in attendees at registration, hosting a room, or working on the event committee, having an assigned role takes some of the pressure off of networking in a room that is filled with people who seem to all know each other (they don’t, but that’s what us introverts think).BONUS: you get to meet a smaller group of people and create new professional relationships with a handful of people who will remember you.
There is no pressure to work the room! Because you have a job to do, my friend. Plus the conference organizers will LOVE that you are a volunteer.
- Room and travel solo. I’ve been to several conferences where fellow attendees carpool together and room together at an Uber. Me? I need my down time. Paying for the hotel is worth every penny so I can have my own room to relax and recharge.TIP: book your room early and get the conference discount, plus the convenience of being on-site in case you need to “escape” midday. This year, I took a Greyhound bus (thanks Stephanie for the tip!) to the conference and gained the benefit of having a few hours of undivided time to catch up on client work and emails. They have electrical outlets on the bus, and I used my hotspot and wore headphones. 😊
- Review the conference program to plan your day. I did this the night before each day of the 2-day conference. I highlighted the speakers I wanted to see and noted where there were breaks in the day so I could plan an escape to recharge. You know, if needed. (It’s needed…)
- Look for fellow introverts to make small talk with. We’re not hard to spot. You can usually find us hanging around the coffee area. A fellow introvert usually welcomes the opportunity to chat, because it reduces the pressure to find a group of people you know.
- Network online in advance and suggest meetups or photos (selfies!) during the event. Whether it’s through LinkedIn, on a Slack Channel, Facebook group or LinkedIn group or even on the conference app, try to connect with as many people as possible before the event begins. Or in the evening after the end of each day of the conference.HINT: Look for people using the conference hashtag and like / reshare their posts and mention you’ll be there, too. I did this and a few people made the effort to find me to say hello at the event. Our conference hashtag was #TogetherCon19.
- Wear a nametag. Most of the time, the conference will give you a lanyard or clip on nametag, or perhaps a write-on nametag, but sometimes there won’t be any nametags. I purchased my own nametag and bring it along with me for this very reason. It’s something that is easy to spot and part of my professional brand. Wearing a nametag makes it easier for people to find you, especially if you’ve networked online beforehand.
- Sit in the front row. Not only are front rows typically the last row to get filled, but it also provides you a great vantage point for photos. I’m super active on social media, so I take a lot of photos and post them during the event on Twitter, with sporadic later postings on LinkedIn (once daily), Facebook (FB live, batch photos in an album), and Instagram (multi-photo post and stories, plus IG live).
- Find your tribe. When you find fellow introverts at a conference, you’ll bond instantly. It may be while bumping into them at the coffee station – for the 5th time today (I KNOW this is not just me…) or because you volunteered with them at the registration desk. These are the people you can dine with over lunch, dinner, or drinks. Or, decide to carpool ride with on the way home instead of taking a late night bus (BONUS: we got to pick up Chick-fil-A on the way home).
- Make downtime. Above all, know that being at a conference will be EXHAUSTING because it is so heavily focused on networking and learning. Give yourself permission to skip on the post-conference day reception or order dinner from the hotel lobby bar and take it upstairs to eat it in your kingsize bed while watching Total Recall on TV. (Sharing for a “friend” who did this) And then order the overpriced room service breakfast and eat in your room before heading down to the morning session.HINT: skip the room service coffee. You know where to find coffee at the conference and it will give you an excuse to find coffee. Like you needed an excuse. Mmm. Coffee.☕
- Extend your networking after the event. While traveling back home, in the comfort of your Greyhound bus seat, passenger vehicle with a fellow introvert who won’t want to talk the whole way, or on the plane while you have WiFi, take the time to look up people who used hashtags throughout the conference. Connect with them on LinkedIn and mention that you both attended the conference. Review the program and connect with the presenters — ALL presenters, not just the ones you met. The great thing about being an introvert is we have all this energy once we have some downtime to recharge. We introverts are really, really, really good at social media. Am I right or what? ROY SEXTON: I’m talking to you.
- Submit your name to be a speaker.Wait….WHAT? Yes, you read that correctly. I love to speak and even though I’m an introvert, I’ve found that I have a bit of knack being in front of the room. I’m embraced my introvert qualities and figured out that when I’m presenting, those nervous feelings all go away.Sure, I’ll need some downtime before and after I present to recharge myself, but when I’m in front of the room, I feel at my personal best.Plus, by being a speaker, I gave myself permission to sneak away at various points throughout the conference to rehearse my presentation.Yes, I start my presentation wearing a bright pink feather boa and cowboy hat. I find that fun props create a diversion in my presentation and make the audience smile, which puts me at ease.
Thanks for capturing me in my kickoff “costume,”Denise Heffron!
Here’s a playback of my presentation at the workshop. I was a bit nervous the first few minutes until I asked for audience participation — my hack for getting rid of the butterflies: talk for a few minutes, then have people in the audience talk so you can catch your breath, then you’re good to go! If you’re an introvert, give this a try!