If you made a list of things that usually happen at conferences, and one of things that usually stress out introverts, and you put them side by side, you'd see that the two match up pretty well. From networking with strangers to general sensory overload, big conferences -- valuable as we all know they are -- can be a particular nightmare for those that find new people and excessive stimulation not stirring, but draining.
Among those who feel this way is Katherine Daniels, a self-proclaimed introvert and engineer at Etsy, who recently shared her hard won wisdom on how introverts can get the benefits of big professional gatherings without the near nervous breakdown on her blog. The entire post is well worth a read if you, like Daniels, tend to get worn down by hours upon hours of social interaction, but to give you a flavor of what you'll find, here are a few of her tips in brief:
1. Get a conference buddy
If you find socializing with stranger stressful, why not improve the situation by bringing along your very own non-stranger? "The better I know someone, the less draining I find them, which is why I would much rather spend time with close friends than with strangers," writes Daniels. "Conferencing with coworkers mean that I have a group of people that feels safe to me and that I can retreat back into for a few minutes' reprieve when meeting new people gets too overwhelming."
Daniels offers this simple but easily overlooked advice: "At conferences, food often involves people, whether that be tables full of conference attendees at lunch or even just a hotel restaurant full of them at breakfast, and that can make it tempting to skip a mean or two to avoid that interaction. Don't! I know that if I skip a meal, the low blood sugar will make me even more cranky and unable to deal with people, making everything seem exponentially more overwhelming."
3. It's OK to say 'later'
Of course you want to get the most you can out of the conference, but the event won't be of much use to you if you're too stressed out and exhausted to hold a thoughtful conversation or make meaningful connections. Daniels' strategy is simply to admit exhaustion and give those hoping to speak with her a card so they can get in touch when she's more rested (and therefore more likely to give them a thoughtful answer anyway).
Advice for extrovert allies
And what if you're not an introvert but you are interested in making events more friendly for the quieter types in attendance? First off, good for you! Second, Daniels has advice for you as well that can help you make conferences more introvert friendly -- check it out.
Introverts, share your best tip for surviving conferences in the comments.