Running Through the 6, Part 2 (AKA Introvert’s Guide to Conferences: The Sequel)

Sarah Thomas, PhD
Jul 2, 2018 · 6 min read

First things first. This post may be all over the place, because I’m rushing to write before I head out to work. Don’t worry…I’ll come back and make some sense out of the whole thing. I just need to get it out of my head and onto paper before I forget.

Recently, I was speaking with a trusted individual about my recent conference experience.

TL;DR: It was a hot mess because I was a hot mess, but what else is new?

She was surprised because I had made significant progress regarding my comfort level with social interactions over the past year. And she was right.

I explained at length everything that happened from the time I arrived to the time I left…definitely a TL;DR for Medium lol…and right away she helped me realize something that I had missed (although I touched on it in the previous blog post). This year, the difference was that I was already stressed out. Then, I was stressed by the fact I was stressed, which caused more stress, and so on. It was like a downward spiral.

Here’s what’s interesting…sometimes you will react very differently to similar things in different settings. My hiccups in Chicago were relatively minor, and if I were home, I would have laughed them off easily and seen the bright side.


  • My computer didn’t work and I wasn’t able to do a presentation the way I planned, but I improvised and it probably went better than if I had stuck with Plan A.
  • I had two panels pretty much back-to-back (with an hour between), but for some reason thought the second panel was on a different day. I went to a short meeting and changed out of my clothes after the first one, but received a Voxer message from a co-presenter about the second one. So I sprinted across the convention center and made it with two minutes to spare (mortified at all of the attention I was drawing the entire time).

There were a few other scenarios like this, but you get the point. It was a comedy of errors…but that’s exactly it: it was a comedy of errors. Looking back, now all of this is funny because it ended well, but in the moment, I wasn’t laughing.

The second panel was about challenges women have faced in the edtech world. We each shared a story about a lesson we have learned based on our experiences.

My story was about how inauthentic I was my first few years in the classroom…when I first started teaching I was young (22) and technically a career-changer (even though I went right back for alternative certification immediately after graduating). I played a role and tried to be what everyone told me to be, without honoring who I was. I wore pantsuits and heels every day, tried to channel my former teachers, and behaved in a way that I believed to be “professional.” I loved the kids and built relationships to some degree, but they could tell I was phony. Sometimes they even called me on it.

Gradually (after several years), I stopped putting on airs, and decided to be myself. This made a huge difference.

My final thought for the audience was something along the lines of, “we are human beings, so just be human.” This is something I tell myself often, and I was really speaking to myself that day. Lately, I’ve made a conscious effort to bring the being back, as I started feeling like a human branding. As a self-proclaimed fan of irony, I have noticed that the more “connected” I’ve become, the more I’ve retreated into my privacy.

So, here we are again.

Back to the point. This is all well and good, to have identified the problem. She asked me what I can do differently next time. I’m still working on this, but I have a few ideas.

  1. Build in more down time, although this is easier said than done…this year, my schedule has been the lightest in the last five years (on purpose). Part of the problem, though, was still the fact that everything came back-to-back. This was in large part due to my own disorganization, caused by improper planning, caused back lack of “down time.” So, perhaps I need to block out time way in advance to preplan.
  2. Be intentional about what I do in my down time. Part of the reason I can recover so quickly at home is because I am distracted, whereas at a conference, there is nothing else to do. This year, I did learn that, when feeling distressed, “do not pass GO, and do not collect $200.” Just head for the nearest exit. This does help avoid a public meltdown, drawing attention and therefore even more distressful feelings. It temporarily breaks the cycle…that is, until you start playing the scenario in your mind over and over, because there’s nowhere to run. Therefore, the next point may be counterintuitive, but I feel like it’s the golden ticket.
  3. Get with friends. Yes, I’m an introvert, but I must be some kind of mutant. While I cherish my alone time when I am happy or neutral, I have realized that when I am low, I need people. “Help! I need somebody. Help! Not just anybody.” Let me explain.

In Part One, I talked about surface connections (acquaintances, or where friendships bud) vs. deep connections (“PLF” or whatever you want to call it). I, like many of us, tend to be my own worst enemy when I’m not in the right headspace. It’s times like that when we need an alternate perspective, to bust out of the echo chamber of our own minds. This is when you need your people the most, the trusted folks who have seen us at our worst but choose to stick around anyway.

So, new idea for next time…you know those emergency contact lists? You usually do these at the beginning of a new school year, or when you go on vacation, or get ready to jump out of a plane lol. These are the people to call if and when things go left. Why not have one of these in place, for this situation exactly?

Initially, when she asked me to think of solutions, I was leaning towards a conference buddy…that might work for some people, but I don’t think it would be a viable option for me. Also, I feel like that would be imposing, asking a lot of someone who is also there to get his/her own experience. It would be different if it were reciprocal, a give and take where I would be able to help him/her out as well, but unfortunately it’s not. Maybe it would be cool if there was like a network of people who did that lol, like an introvert hotline. Lol I’m joking…or not.

But seriously, at a conference with over 20K people, if you’re connected, you’re not limited to one. Why not pull together a list…and in times when you need a friend, just go down the list and see if somebody’s free to grab pizza, to take a walk, whatever. If the first person is busy, then go to the next one, etc. I’m not sure why this is such an aha moment for me, but it just might work.

I’m thinking it’s probably a good idea to give folks a heads up for why you might contact them. Also, it would be good to set the expectation that…there is no expectation. They don’t need to drop everything to come save the day, and you’re making a list of multiple people.

I have no idea how something like this might blow over, but it’s just an idea to try for next time. I think it would also be important to try and hit the list before going too far down the rabbit hole of distress, so that you still have some kind of positivity to cling to, especially if your friend may be influenced by your mood. I’m out of time, so I will click Publish, but I’m sure I will revisit. Have a great day, and thanks for reading.

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