On Being an Introvert at Big Conferences

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On Being an Introvert at Conferences

In a couple of my circles of interest I attend a few conferences each year. The past few years have found me in Austin for SXSW, Las Vegas for New Media Expo, Cincinnati for Photo Pro Expo, and various cities for WordCamp events. Between now and March I have trips planned for Atlanta, Seattle, and Phoenix for upcoming events. I love to travel to these events and I come away from each one a better person, but as an introvert I find I can’t do the event in the way that many go about it.

Conference Schedules and Introversion Energy

Most of these conferences consist of regional, national, or international audiences. The official programs usually are all-day affairs with various (often sponsored) parties, dinners, and other networking opportunities in the evening. A key component of the definition of introversion vs. extroversion according to Myers-Briggs is where one draws energy. If one is an extrovert and gains energy by being around lots of other people, I can’t imagine a more productive and stimulating environment. On the other hand if one is an introvert and gains energy by time spent alone in contemplative thought, the nonstop social potential from breakfast until closing time at the bars is a recipe for uncomfortableness at best.

It’s not that introverts don’t ever want to be around people. I find that the personal interaction and networking opportunities at events to generally be the most valuable part of attending. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to converse with a bunch of folks that are experts in their various fields. It’s not a huge secret, but most of the material presented at conferences isn’t different from material found via other resources. The value in traveling to a conference (and paying out the money required to do so) is in the personal interactions with other attendees, speakers, and sponsors. The solution isn’t simply for introverts to stay home.

I’ve tried doing the 20-hour-conference-day thing. What I’ve discovered is that if I’m at the opening sessions at a conference, stay all day, enjoy happy hour and dinner, attend a party or other networking event, and then wrap things up with a post-networking conversation or drink that by the end of the evening I’m pretty much useless. I’m drained to the point where I don’t gain much for interactions with others and I’m not only doing myself a disservice but I’m wasting others’ time since I’m probably not being very interesting.

A Solution of “Me” Time

It might seem overly simple, but I’ve found a solution that simply involves better planning my days to allow for some “me” time where I recharge and have some time alone to process the event and interactions. Here’s what that might look like for my participation in an event:

  • I might choose to find a seat in a hallway or a side room and spend 30 minutes to review notes or such instead of attending every session.
  • I may skip happy hour, instead choosing to crash in my hotel room for an hour before meeting folks for dinner a bit later.
  • If I do stay out until things wrap up late (or early as the case may be), after sleeping overnight I might choose to spend an hour or two in my room catching up on things outside of the conference rather than heading down to make the first session.
  • If it’s not too inconvenient, I won’t leave a conference as soon as it ends. After Pressnomics wrapped up mid-Saturday, I stayed through Sunday evening. I’ll use the downtime after the event to get some rest, catch up on what happened in the “real world” while I was at the conference, and review/process new information or connections gained at the event.

So What

What’s the point? Why did I write this? I’m not entirely sure, other than it seemed like something that I wanted to share. If you’re the extroverted type, realize that I’m not being antisocial if I choose not to attend every single party or gathering. It’s awesome that interacting with others for 18 hours in a row refuels your system, but it’s also just fine that I need to refuel my system by spending a bit of time away from crowds. I still want to interact and meet you, but I need a bit of downtime here and there so that I can be in the best mental and physical state to make the personal connections that provide so much value at conferences and other events.

This article has been updated from a previous version published on AaronHockley.com