Is there an introverts chapter in this convention?
March 26, 2011 9:34 AM   Subscribe

Help an extreme introvert thrive at an industry conference.

I might be presenting at a 4-day conference within the next few months. Problem is, I'm extremely introverted and need pointers/guidance on how to make the most of my trip. BTW, I will be going alone and doubt that I would run into any colleagues there.

I'm not shy about presenting, and have experience with public speaking and facilitation, so that's not an issue. It's more the networking/social aspect that makes me nervous. If I had it my way, I'd just present my stuff, attend the sessions that interest me, and hang out in my hotel room or downtown the rest of the time. Obviously, that's not going to cut it.

I would appreciate any input from my fellow introverts who've had similar experiences. How do I make contacts, 'sell' myself, socialise, and generally act like a normal human being around throngs of complete strangers for 8 hours/day without feeling psychically exhausted every night?

Thanks a bunch, mefites.
posted by methroach to Work & Money (6 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This is how I always did it when I went to conferences: Walk up to someone and say "I really liked your presentation. I found it interesting because..." or "I saw you at [panel discussion] and I like the questions you asked. What do you think about [thing]?"

I'm the kind of introvert who needs time away from crowds of people to recharge. I'm not particularly shy, but I do have attacks where I feel like I can't bring myself to talk to This Crowd of People! So I try to not think of them as The Crowd of People! but as "that guy I saw talking about that thing I like" or "that woman whose powerpoint made me laugh so hard I almost peed myself" because that reminds me that while I may not know everyone's name, they're not exactly strangers - we're all at this conference together, which means we have things in common.

Standing in line for coffee or food or waiting for the elevator is a good place to strike up conversation. Don't think about it as "selling" yourself - I'd have a terrible time talking to anyone if that's how I framed it. Instead, it's about talking to people about the things you have in common, sharing knowledge you have, and gaining some in return.

Oh, and alcohol. Not tons of it, but enough to break the shyness a little bit.
posted by rtha at 9:45 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I approach social events like free-diving. I take a really deep breath, and submerge... knowing that I will have to surface in order to regain my life and sanity. With that in mind:
  1. Try to take breaks for yourself during those eight hours... but avoid the temptation of extending alone time to the point at which attendees are wondering where you are.
  2. Make it fun for yourself. You're in the industry because (one hopes) you are passionate about what you do. Use it as an opportunity to learn from other people.
  3. Related to (2) above: most people respond well to being asked interesting questions about themselves. Engage with people with a purpose. Appreciate them, absorb from them, let them know that you are grateful for their time and attention, and move on.
  4. If this works, people will want to hang out with you after sessions. If you feel you can make it, go for it. If you need that time to recharge, be prepared with a reasonable and polite reason as to why you can't.
  5. Similarly, business cards and contacts. You want to network, you just want it to be in ways that you can control. If you're okay with phone conversations, then by all means a full business card is a good idea. Otherwise, you might want to have a set printed out that only includes an eMail address for contact (assuming you field all queries yourself).
  6. On the off-hours, treat yourself. Whatever it is that you most like to do - whatever relaxes you best - do that, to be refreshed for the next day.
  7. Most of all, as rtha says above, reframe this as an opportunity, not a chore.
I hope this helps... have a great time!
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 9:52 AM on March 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Read this. I found it excellent, and I'm exactly like you. Don't worry about the occasionally forced chumminess of the language. The ideas have been worth their weight in gold.
posted by dowcrag at 10:41 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Schedule in down-time. If there's a slot where none of the talks seem all that interesting, head straight back to your hotel room. Come back for the lunch/breaks and chat to people.

Encouraging people to talk about their own research or area of expertise is a good way of getting in some networking efforts while not expending enormous amounts of emotional energy.

If there's evening meal socialising that isn't already planned out, find people you actively want to network with and invite two or three of them for dinner somewhere the other conference guests are unlikely to find. If you're in charge of the planning you're (slightly) less likely to end up on a raucous drunken outing with 20 people.

Plan a full weekend of you-time as soon as you get back. Ultimately the whole thing is going to be draining whether you like it or not, so you may as well schedule some time to recover.
posted by emilyw at 11:30 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Good advice so far. If you're the type to do so, I'd also recommend working out a rough schedule for yourself (what talks and other events you want to attend and when), so that you're not feeling like you have to juggle between socializing and figuring out where to be next. Plus, looking through the lineup in more detail may help you with name recall & recognition (and framing more interesting questions for presenters) while you're on site.
posted by deludingmyself at 2:20 PM on March 26, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the great answers, everyone. I know this will help with my first-ever conference!
posted by methroach at 2:21 PM on March 28, 2011

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