How to Be Good at Conferences as an Introvert

prepping for a conference

I don’t usually count conference attendance among the things we typically make a point of preparing for ahead of time. We prepare for our exams, speaking engagements, and even tough conversations…but not conferences. A conference is a thing you register for, and later, show up for.

But you can totally prepare for a conference! Especially if, like me, you’re an introvert who experiences anxiety around large gatherings and social events. Whether you’re nervous about the professional image you project, getting the most out of the event and its networking opportunities, or just want to avoid feeling lost in a crowd and unsure of what to do with yourself, conference prep is a real thing and you’re not weird for taking the time you need to get ready.

Here are some introvert-friendly ways to help you get the most out of your next conference:

Before the Conference

Ask yourself, what are your goals going into the conference? Do you want to share your expertise and trade insights with your peers? Do you want to emerge with at least one good job lead? Have a conversation with at least 3 people whose careers you admire? Promote your business? Develop a connection with at least one person you find interesting? Know exactly what you want to get out of the event and what your expectations are so you can go in with a plan.

Similarly, think about what you plan to do with your experience at the conference. What are your takeaways? Do you want to create any deliverables, like a blog post summing up your experience, or a brief presentation to your boss to report on why it was valuable so she’ll send you again next year? If you have a clear idea of what you’d like to achieve after the conference, you’ll have a better sense of purpose at the event.

As best you can, find out who’s going to be there and who you’re most interested to meet. If social media information is provided in the conference materials, consider reaching out to any interesting attendees or speakers on LinkedIn or Twitter. If you can establish a connection with a few people ahead of time, you’ll thank yourself later when you’re standing in a sea of people and able to identify a few friendly faces. It’s much easier to begin a conversation when you can say, “Oh, I think we’re already following each other on Twitter. Your tweet about sloths was hilarious!”

During the Conference

Have a brief version of your story ready. If, like me, you get anxious talking about yourself, it helps to have something prepared. Sort of like your elevator pitch, except you’re not pitching yourself. Rather, you’re telling your story. Whenever someone asks you, “So what do you do?” Or “What brings you to the conference?”, this is where your story comes in. As an example, here’s a story script I used recently at a conference:

I’m a writer, and I handle content creation and strategy on the Education team at ActiveCampaign, a tech startup in Chicago. I’m pretty happy with my career right now, and aside from making more money, I’m not sure what I want to pursue next! I came to the conference to get some new ideas and perspective, and to see if I can get closer to identifying a 5 year plan that works for me.

Find other ways to contribute. I’m always impressed by my more extroverted peers who never fail to ask a lot of smart questions during Q & A sessions and offer insightful opinions in discussions. Out of a strong desire to be seen as a contributor, I’ve definitely pressured myself to keep up with them in the past. Problem is, off the cuff discussion just doesn’t work for me. I usually need more time to process my thoughts on a topic before I feel ready to converse about it. Fortunately, there are other ways to make your mark! Maybe you’re not the loudest person in the room because you’re focused instead on taking beautiful, meticulous notes to share with other conference attendees. Or perhaps your strong suit is photography or social media, and you’d prefer to offer your thoughts and photos online to start a discussion there. Or maybe you’re really good at finding the best places to eat wherever you go, and lead everyone to an amazing dinner every night.

Know what you’d like to talk to people about. What kind of conversations do you want to have? Maybe you’re dealing with a particular problem in your life or career and would be interested in hearing others’ advice. Or maybe you just love talking about productivity hacks, or coding, or all the cats you’re following on Instagram. Whatever your preferred topics, have them handy in your mind. Then, actually let people know what you’re interested in talking about. To a group you can say something like, “I just went through a big career transition, so I’m full of advice on that topic if anyone would like to talk.”

Focus on having more one-on-one conversations. I’ve found that holding a conversation with one person at a time is far more rewarding than trying to keep up with the large group discussion that’s really being run by one or two or three people at most. One-on-one, it’s easier to ask questions and have a conversation that is both coherent and meaningful. I find this to be a better way to build solid and lasting connections with the people I meet at conferences.

Keep Experimenting

To summarize, it’s a trial and error process. Try a few different approaches and see what works best for you.

It’s dumb to expect we should all just show up and automatically be good at conferencing. Some of us are in fact very good at it, but those of us who are not shouldn’t feel weird about taking time in advance to set ourselves up for success.

 

Published on TheMuse: 5 Strategies Introverts Can Use to Boost Their Energy Levels When They Need it Most

Do you ever feel sapped of the energy you need to get through an important meeting at work? Or wish you could postpone that networking event because you need a chance to gather your strength and wit at home?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone in feeling like this!

As an introvert in the communications field, I enjoy speaking in front of an audience and forging new relationships just as much as my more extroverted peers. But I’m often in awe of people who go from multiple meetings during the workday to an after-hours networking event with the same lively charm and gusto they had at the beginning of the day. The energy I have for such activities is limited—and I usually need a good break to recharge between engagements.

Continue reading.

Takeaways from the Balanced Team Chicago Salon

When I was invited to attend the Balanced Team Chicago Salon, I was excited for the opportunity to bring my PR and communications perspective to a networking event I knew would be full of developers and designers. At the intimate un-conference held in Pivotal Labs’ Chicago office last month we discussed collaboration and workshopped creating, leading and working as part of a balanced team. By definition the event was open to all professional disciplines and areas of expertise.

Rounding up even a small group of people from different professional backgrounds and disciplines to participate in a workshop seems like a difficult task. Whether people aren’t interested in learning about the work that others do, they’re not convinced they’ll get anything out of an event that’s not part of their professional niche or they fear not fitting in, I don’t know. So I appreciate when an event successfully makes all feel welcome, even and especially when that event is attended primarily by people in a certain industry or field, as the Balanced Team salon was.

And I am all the more appreciative when that event also turns out to hold value for all participants. The Balanced Team Chicago Salon certainly did for me. It was worth it to meet new people doing things with technology I hardly understood. There was meaningful conversation around what all of us do and how we can effectively collaborate together on a team.

Here are a few thoughts I came away with:

  • A truly successful collaboration between professional disciplines, unique skill-sets and areas of expertise is going to take us out of our comfort zones. It’s important that a safe space is created for asking intelligent and dumb questions alike. If we don’t develop working relationships that allow us to ask the questions that feel foolish, we can’t come to understand everyone’s role on the team or how we can all help each other.
  • A good collaborator makes an effort to understand how her colleagues and clients think. I think this is key for professional communicators. When we’re in tune with how stakeholders in our work think, we can tailor how we communicate, or the message itself, for those different thought processes, and thereby improve productivity on our team.
  • Collaboration is a skill that must be practiced. A collaboration-focused work philosophy involves actively seeking out projects that get us working with a variety of disciplines and work styles.
  • We should aim to develop a balanced professional network. A friend of mine who was also present at the workshop pointed out during the discussion that we should seek happiness in our professional lives the way we do in our social lives. Many of us have developed a network of select friends who fulfill our various social needs. Likewise, we should think of our professional network in terms of our professional needs—who belongs in your network to meet those needs? What kind of contacts can contribute to your overall professional satisfaction and success? Probably a group of people with an array of knowledge and skill-sets. Seek them out to develop a balanced professional network.

 

Balanced Team at Pivotal Labs Chicago
Discussing public relations with a dynamic group of designers, developers and artists. Photo: Tim McCoy