This week I’ve been at a conference for work purposes. I’ve been to many conferences before but never to one where the field is completely new to me.
Well, new and not so new. The conference is all about data and data management. Higher-level, abstract stuff.
I like abstract stuff, but it’s been a challenge.
Large groups of strangers + feeling a bit out of my league = LET ME RUN AND HIDE!!!
But then I remind myself that I am a friendly person (at least I think so), who knows a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff (I’m pretty sure, anyway…), so striking up conversations won’t be too bad, right?
I have to say, wearing big name badges (and I mean BIG) with a statement of where you are from written underneath, is extremely helpful. (Thank you, Conference Organizers!) It’s a conversation starter. My next question is usually, “Have you been to this conference before?” And then I don’t mind admitting that I haven’t, and that I’m new to the field. People usually have a lot to say at that point.
Surprisingly, as scary as it is, giving a presentation is helpful. That way people might approach you and you have something to talk about. This hint was also given in a great article about introverts and conferences in The Harvard Business Review.
I’ve fully accepted the fact that I’m an introvert, and I realize this doesn’t mean I’m socially inept or anti-social. I just need a lot of time alone. Recognizing what I need, and giving myself what I need, has made seemingly terrifying events like conferences much more bearable. Here are six things that I’ve done for myself during this trip:
- I got up early each day to make sure I have some quiet time to myself before all the social “chaos” began.
- I hit breakfast as soon as it was offered so I could get that first cup of coffee in silence.
- I threw away the idea that I always have to introduce myself to people and instead, let people come to me. So at lunch or at poster sessions I sat/stood by myself, and if people came to talk to me, great! If they didn’t, great! Same with sitting down for talks: I didn’t always have to sit next to someone and strike up a conversation. Maybe the people who were already sitting were craving silence, too?
- If there were no speaking sessions that were useful to me, then I ran away! To the nearest coffee shop! And wrote! (Lions and food that falls from the sky).Writing always fills up my well. I returned to the rest of the conference day refreshed. And I didn’t let myself feel guilty for not attending EVERY SECOND of the conference.
- The first poster session was crammed with people. With hardly any way to move or talk to the poster-authors. So I fled. I came back the next morning, to take my time to look at the posters in peace and with no social pressure. So thank you, Conference Organizers, for allowing the posters to remain up during “off times.”
- If I was mentally and socially drained, I excused myself politely from the conversation: “I should head back up to my room,” or, “I’m going to grab another drink. It was nice meeting you!” People really didn’t seem to mind.
So it’s the last day of the conference for me. I fully realize that extroverts, or anyone anywhere along the introvert-extrovert spectrum, is probably exhausted and “peopled-out,” too!
My bottom line: Be kind to yourself. What do you need? Give it to yourself. You’ll be grateful. Throw away the guilt of not being a Conference Superstar.
I think we could all be better friends to ourselves. I know I’m trying to be.