An Introvert’s Guide to Conferences

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Conferences are exhausting for introverts.

Don’t get me wrong — they’re great. I love them. It’s an environment full of energy, full of people, and full of possibility. The networking opportunities are endless, and there are typically workshops, exhibitors, and events going on from the early hours of the morning until well into the night.

There’s no doubt about it — the amount of value that you can get out of attending a conference is huge.

It’s invigorating.

But it’s also exhausting.

As an extreme introvert who also loves attending conferences, I always approach a new event with a mixture of anticipation and excitement. I know the experience will be a good one, but I can’t help fending off a slight edge of panic.

Mentally, I run through the different conversations in my head. What’s my elevator pitch, and how do I approach strangers? Do I make the extra effort to speak up during panels and workshops, or do I sit in the back and labor over my laptop? Do I attend the extra networking events, or slink back to my room to recover from an endless bombardment of sensory information?

Sometimes it seems like I’m the only introvert in a sea of extraverts, but I know that can’t be the case. I know there are probably others, like me, who don the extraversion mask for a few short days, and need about a week to recover from the excitement afterwards.

So, as Tara and I prepare to jet off to the Women in Travel Summit this weekend, I thought I’d prepare an introvert’s guide to conferences and give a shout out to my fellow introverts with a few survival tips.

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Survival Tip #1: Go with a plan

One of the worst enemies of introversion is the overwhelming sense of uncertainty while facing the pressure of being social. I’ve found that the best way to combat this is by carefully outlining a plan. This isn’t limited to figuring out which workshops you’re going to, but also how you’re getting to the conference center, what the cost of transportation is, where you’re spending your after-conference hours, etc.

Even if you don’t stick to the schedule, and make a few spontaneous changes, you’ll feel better having it as your backup.

Survival Tip #2: Carve out alone time

I’m infamous for hiding in bathrooms when I get overwhelmed. Crowds of people, loud noises, the need to be “on” for long periods of time…after awhile my palms begin to sweat, my stomach twists, and I feel like my smile is glued to my face. Around this time is when I know I need to make an escape. Slinking away, I usually find a bathroom stall to hide in for a few minutes. Just taking the chance to hear the sound of silence can go a long way toward refocusing your anxieties.

Of course, I don’t necessarily recommend the bathroom. Your hotel room would probably be a much more comfortable place to carve out alone time.

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Survival Tip #3: Don’t forget about your health

Any negative situation is aggravated by being unhealthy. Tempting as it may be to grab a chocolate-stuffed, glazed doughnut for breakfast, resist the urge and choose a healthier option. Combine healthy food with exercise — even if it’s just speed walking around the conference center — to get your blood flowing and endorphins going. Your overall mood will improve and the burden of being in extravert mode will become less overwhelming.

Survival Tip #4: Get plenty of sleep

You may have to cut out an early morning session, or skip a late night brouhaha, but the benefits of a full night of sleep are irreplaceable. Introverts recharge with alone time — and there is no time where you’re more alone than when you are asleep. Taking half an hour or so to relax before going to bed — whether it’s reading a book or going over your notes from the conference — can help restore your sense of balance and leave you ready to approach the new day with a smile on your face.

Survival Tip #5: Meditate

For a long time, I was skeptical about meditation. It seemed a bit too New Age for my cynical self. But after incorporating nightly sleep meditations into my routine, I’m a full-fledged believer in its power. Whether it’s to help fall asleep, or to detox from an overabundance of people, even five minutes of meditation can help you refocus. I use Headspace personally, and you can get a ten day free trial. If you’re not into paid services, there are a ton of free YouTube videos as well.

Survive — and thrive!

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Conferences can be overwhelming, but it’s important to remember that they’re also fun! Even if you’re exhausted at the end, if you take care of yourself and give it your all you’ll come out with a wealth of connections, experiences, and opportunities that you definitely won’t regret. Even though it may seem so at times, conferences are definitely not the sole territory of extraverts. So introverts — go out and do your thing! Just don’t forget to find time to recharge!

 Let’s hear from my fellow introverts! How do you survive and thrive in highly social environments?

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How to Afford Part-Time Travel: Blogger Tips & Tricks
  • Great tips! I am also an introvert, but do my best at conferences. Typically, I find small group settings (3-4 people at a time) a good way to enjoy some of the networking without all of the draining that can come with it. Plus it’s great for making deeper connections!