A Conference Survival Guide for Introverts

A Conference Survival Guide for Introverts

Written by Stacey Chazin

April 12, 2023

Comedian Amy Schumer, a self-proclaimed introvert, once mused, “If you’re a true introvert, other people are basically energy vampires.” As an introvert packing up to attend a large, national conference next week – the first in-person gathering of this size that I’ve attended since 2019 – these words ring loud and true. 

The 2023 National Oral Health Conference will be four days of “everything oral health” with my people. In the almost 15 years that I have worked in public health and oral health, I have built a network of treasured colleagues and close friends, and so many of them will be there. I haven’t seen most of these souls in person since 2019, and I am beyond excited to be in the same actual room (not a Zoom room!) with them again. 

That said, the COVID-imposed break on big, in-person meetings has allowed this self-proclaimed and Myers-Briggs-certified introvert to avoid the mental and physical exhaustion of multi-day social interactions in large crowds. Of course, that’s also meant missing out on the parts of conferences that I so enjoy – reconnecting with folks, breaking bread (and sipping wine) together, and getting out of my house! I feel joyful about recapturing these pleasures.

As I prepare to return to the excitement/dread of large, in-person gatherings, I’m also reminding myself of strategies that have worked for me in the past, and others that I’m planning to try this time around – all honoring the introvert that I am. If you are in a similar boat, you may also want to consider the following:

  • Be selective in which events you attend: Don’t let FOMO (fear of missing out) drive you to attend every single session or event. You know yourself and how much is “too much” social interaction on a given day. Review the conference agenda ahead of time to pick which events you will attend and which you will skip. Many conferences will share presentation slides after the event so that registrants can catch up on anything they miss. Take advantage of that option, or just be okay with not gleaning it all. 
  • Take breaks. Whether it’s in between events or even during them, step out into the hall, into the restroom, back to your hotel room, or even outside if the weather is nice. This approach helps me to recharge my “introvert energy” with the alone time that I need to feel good and return comfortably and productively to a large group.
  • Identify a volunteer (or paid) role for yourself at the conference. Keeping busy with assigned tasks allows you to remain visible and present at an event, while giving you a valid “excuse” not to engage informally and make small talk with others. For example, you could explore staffing a booth or registration table or helping to direct people to meeting rooms.
  • Use alternative strategies for networking. While extroverts may move comfortably throughout a social reception or be energized by hopping from one exhibitor booth to the next, for many introverts like me, that’s just not our jam. But we still want to (and can) make new connections and build on others. One approach is honing your elevator pitch in advance of the event and sharing that with new connections, along with the suggestion to schedule a follow-up Zoom chat when you are both back at your desks. Or ask someone if they’d like to grab coffee on a break, or a drink together at the hotel bar later in the day.
  • Identify your “target connections” ahead of time. Many conferences have an app that lets you see who’s attending, and some share printed lists. If available, review the roster in advance and identify just a few people with whom you want to connect. Focus on connecting with those individuals on-site, emphasizing quality (and your psychological well-being) over quantity. 
  • Prepare two to three “small talk” prompts in advance. Open-ended questions such as, “What did you think of today’s keynote speaker?” “How have you been enjoying the conference so far?” and “What brings you to this event?” can break the ice and prompt the other person to fill the airspace while you listen. For me, having these questions in mind takes away some of the “what are we going to talk about” anxiety. They also communicate that you care about what the other person thinks.
  • Buddy up. If you know someone else attending the conference, reach out in advance to see if they’d like to “work the room” with you. This person could be an introvert like yourself who would also appreciate having a partner, or an extrovert, who could take the lead on starting conversations or carrying them forward when you feel your energy depleting.
  • Pack comfort items to help yourself recharge. Being away from home doesn’t mean you need to give up all your creature comforts, and you shouldn’t! Consider packing a few items – your comfy slippers, earphones to listen to music or your favorite podcast, or healthy snacks – that can fuel you and help keep you in your literal comfort zone while away.
  • End your day early if you need to. Again, I point to FOMO as a potential culprit. If you need to skip the conference dinner, an evening event, or even afternoon programming, go ahead and do so. You will likely feel better, and if the conference is continuing the next day, and may be re-energized to take on the world (or at least the conference). 
  • Don’t beat yourself up over the fact that you don’t enjoy small talk or long periods of social interactions. As I’ve written about previously, we should all own who we are as leaders, professionals, and humans. There are many strengths to being an introvert, even if socializing in large crowds for a long time isn’t one of them. Don’t apologize for that. Instead, lean into your strengths and take care of yourself.

If you are an introvert, I hope the above will help you not only to “survive,” but to thrive, at your next in-person conference. If you are of the extrovert variety, and you come across one of us at your next conference, don’t be offended if you see us slipping out of the room. We may be recharging and will likely be back soon, raring to go. Or not. And that’s okay too.

Thank you for reading. If you want to receive future news and resources to help build your organization’s capacity to effect social change, or to explore how we can work together, please email us at stacey@chazinconsulting.comPlease also follow us on Facebook or LinkedIn, where we promise not to overwhelm you with meaningless chatter.

Some information in this blog was adapted from the following sources:

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