"....... for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust" Psalm 103:14

Conference survival tips for introverts

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

I've posted before about how I'm an introvert, and I'm perfectly okay with that and have no desire to be anything different. So last year when I first started following some Paleo and AIP (Autoimmune Protocol) blogs, I came across a post by Eileen Laird from Phoenix Helix about how to survive a conference as an introvert. I loved the post, because as an occasional conference attender myself, I could really relate to the whole "how do you do a conference when you're an introvert" question.

Spot the introvert!
Since then, whenever I've been at a conference, or even just a 1 or 2 day workshop, I've kept Eileen's tips in mind, but I realise that I've developed some of my own "survival tips" too. I also find myself watching for other introverts at these events, and I usually smile to myself as I join them for a break from the frenetic conference "networking" - on the couches placed strategically near the windows or at the perimeters of the venue, or outside in the sunshine, each one often standing or sitting alone, invariably using phones or computers either because they have super-important work to do, or just so they won't be interrupted. It's mildly amusing, and I count myself among them. Sometimes I even ask (with a smile, as I sit some distance away) "Is this the introvert lounge?" Sometimes I don't get a smile in return, which usually makes me smile all the more.

Four packed conference days
I recently attended an international conference that was 4 packed days of really great information, tips and resources. I was one of who-knows-how-many Australian and International delegates, as well as multiple exhibitors, concurrent presentations in 10 different rooms, not to mention multiple morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea stations where delegates gathered to eat, drink and make the most of the "networking" opportunities. On top of this there were several organised social events in the evenings. Phew! 

I survived, and I learned lots. But all that noise and networking was tiring, and in order to keep my sanity and preserve my health, it was important for me to keep in mind a number of strategies that help.

Eileen's survival tips
The first two are Eileen's tips that really resonated with me, and which I try to put into practice for the sake of my conference sanity and so I can go the distance!!

1. If you can afford it, don't share accommodation.
Generally speaking I find it a relief, at the end of a busy conference day, to return to a quiet room to regroup, alone. In the past I have enjoyed sharing accommodation with colleagues. For example, I attended an interstate conference less than 2 months after my ex-husband left, and while I wasn't in great shape at the time and almost pulled out of going at all, I was glad in the end that I decided to go and very thankful for the company of kind and understanding colleagues who happily made all the decisions when I couldn't, and who kept my mind off my struggles for a few days.

For this recent conference, my husband came along too, so that was lovely, and of course we didn't have to share accommodation with others. But for the most part, I find that having a room to myself is the BEST thing.

2. Try to get out in nature. 
This is another must for me. Even if it's just planning for my accommodation to be only a short distance away from the conference venue so I can walk there and back each day. But I also like to get outside of the windowless rooms during breaks and stand in the sunshine whenever I can. This also helps with my circadian rhythms so I get a better sleep each night, especially if I've travelled to another time zone. 

And mine
Below are my own conference survival tips and various strategies I've found helpful over the years.

3. It's okay NOT to attend everything.
I give myself permission NOT to attend everything that's on offer at a conference. I'm a big advocate for taking a break, missing a session (or two) and doing something that re-energises me or just soothes my soul so that I don't start to flag before I get to the things that are of most interest to me and most relevant to my job.

4. Take time out from the fray.
This may mean that I just head off somewhere by myself for lunch. While I love sharing a meal with friends, there are times I know it's better just to be by myself for a while. It can also allow me to achieve numbers 2 and 3 (above) at the same time. Conference lunch sessions are often quite long - an hour or even an hour and a half - and at this recent conference I had time to walk 10 or 15 minutes to a cafe for a leisurely lunch, and enjoy the sunshine on the way there and back, and even to walk back to our apartment to eat. Then I was able to head back for the afternoon session feeling refreshed.

5. BYO snacks.
Since we're on the topic of food breaks (necessary for introverts and extroverts alike) my suggestion is to BYO snacks, unless you're willing to indulge in the carb-fest that comes with most conferences. Honestly, the gluten and SUGAR on offer is beyond the pale!! Because of my particular food preferences, I'm usually prepared with my own snacks - a banana for morning tea usually works (although there is sometimes a fruit platter, but this can be unpredictable) or I shop at the supermarket for more appropriate snacks that will satiate me until lunchtime. 

6. Skip the social events.
I rarely attend the organised social events these days. I used to feel obligated, but crowds of people hanging out in groups, all trying to talk over the top of each other and the music, is simply more than I can contend with. I'm partly deaf as it is, my voice often starts to give out, and by the end of the evening I'm exhausted from trying to listen, trying to make myself heard, and just the general extreme level of ambient noise. It's a bit of a sensory overload for me (my mother will be laughing if she's reading this). It helps that my organisation will only pay for the basics rather than all the "fruit" so I'm happy to have this as an excuse and to let the conference social events go on without me.

7. Or plan your own!
Instead I might plan a couple of quiet social events of my own, either with colleagues who are also attending or with newly made friends. This last time we had two evenings out with other couples - a colleague who lives on the Gold Coast and her husband met us for dinner on our first evening, and we enjoyed another dinner a couple of nights later with a colleague with whom I work and whose husband had also accompanied her to the conference. Both were "my kind" of evenings - good food, good conversation in a MUCH quieter environment, and an early night because we all had to be "up and at 'em" the following day.

Guilt-free conference attendance
So there you have it. My conference survival tips for introverts. They're not for everyone, of course, but if they can help others to feel more relaxed, confident and guilt-free about attending what can often be an overwhelming event, then I'm happy to have shared!

What are your tips and strategies for surviving the intense experience that a conference can often be?

12 comments

  1. It took me many years to realize that I didn't have to attend all the events. I used to go to the evening socials, often alone, and feel out of it and miserable all night. Dinner with a friend is a better choice, as is staying in with a book! #Pitstop

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    1. I totally agree Michele, and I'm glad to have shed the (self-imposed) expectations that I MUST attend whatever is on offer. I often notice the heavy heads and the late starters the morning after the conference dinner too and am glad that I chose a more healthful option (for me)!!

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  2. Glad to meet introverts here! We can so identify with the sensory overload at crowded places, and the only thing to do is at least to eat healthily and sneak away sometimes :-)

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    1. Too true Anne! And nice to meet you too xx

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  3. Great tips! As a fellow introvert, I take comfort in the fact that it is okay not to network at every opportunity. You'll find me standing next to the windows or just outside the venue during those breaks. I do love meeting new people and talking to colleagues--just not all day every day. Thanks for sharing your tips. I found them on Blogger's Pit Stop.

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    1. I'm the same Christie, more than happy to meet and chat with existing colleagues or new connections. It's the conference "overwhelm" that I find so tiring!! Not to mention session after session in windowless rooms, that sees me heading for daylight and hopefully sunshine at the first opportunity. I'll keep an eye out for you by the windows if we ever find ourselves at a bloggers' conference!!!
      Thanks for your comment xx

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  4. You have described what I have done for years, without realizing why I do it. This is helpful in that now I will be more intentional with balancing my alone time with social interaction which is an important part of conferences. Thanks for sharing at Blogger's Pit Stop.

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    1. Aletha I think the more I've attended conferences over the years the more I've worked these things out gradually, until now they are very much uppermost in my mind and I plan accordingly!! Glad my post was helpful, and thanks for stopping by, reading and commenting xx

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  5. I just realised that you are an Aussie. woot. Your post hits a great spot. I used to have a figure of how many bloggers are introverts it was a large percentage. Some think an introvert is a shy self consumed person. Not so. They are often very intelligent, have lots to think about and don't get a lot of joy out of 'small talk'. Anyway for all the introvert bloggers we will feature this post on the next Blogger's Pit Stop.
    Kathleen

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    1. Hi Kathleen, thanks! Yes, Aussie through and through and blessed to be so - born and raised in Tasmania, living in WA now for many years.
      I also used to think an introvert was somehow "less". Now I realise that introverts are not, as you say, shy or self-consumed, but just people who love people but who need time alone to re-energise.
      Thanks for the way you support introvert bloggers like me!!

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  6. I never thought I was an introvert (and my husband regulary assures me that I'm not) BUT I HATE large gatherings, I hate trying to make conversation with people I don't know, I get exhausted talking in noisy rooms (and I think my hearing is deteriorating with age) and there is nothing that I enjoy about going to strange places surrounded by strange people.
    That being said, I'm relieved that I no longer need to go to conferences and I won't go to "events" for the same reason - at this rate I'll be a hermit with a cat by the time I'm 80!

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    1. Our creative God has ensured that we are all such a mix of personality traits!! While I don't enjoy large gatherings either, Leanne, and can totally relate to the exhaustion of noisy rooms, I'm usually happy to introduce myself and make conversation with people I haven't met before (as long as I don't have to strain to hear or make myself heard in aforementioned noisy room)!! I would definitely say I'm on the introvert end of the spectrum because I do re-energise by having time alone, but perhaps I'm not so far from the middle as other introverts!!

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I'd love to hear your thoughts on this post. Please feel free to leave a comment!