Hundreds of strangers.
Large, impersonal rooms.
Exhibition halls, with vendors smiling behind dishes of chocolate.
Small talk and ice-breakers.
“Optional” happy hours and city tours.
For many introverts, any one of these situations in a day would be draining. All of them at once? Torture!
Yet, it’s usually these things – and more – that we encounter every time we go to a large event or conference.
I actually love going to conferences and events. Even though the logistics drain me, I enjoy hearing interesting speakers, getting handouts, worksheets and resources, and being challenged to think in new ways. I always figure that if I come away with at least one inspiring idea, paradigm shift or meaningful connection, it was worth the stress and expense of my best energy.
But when I think back to various events I’ve been to, even the ones I wanted to attend, I had to force myself to go. Just anticipating the event would make me preemptively exhausted. Thank goodness for the conferences that provided a minute-by-minute schedule; I could sit with it each morning and do a mental dress rehearsal, plotting my entrances and exits.
The challenge is that most large events seem to subscribe to the notion that we have to be together every second of the day, and cram every minute with activity to get our money’s worth. If you want to slip away for some quiet time, you are inevitably going to miss a keynote, a session or a meal, all undesirable options when you’ve paid good money to be there.
Patty K and I are putting our heads together to develop some ways to help event planners create more introvert-friendly experiences. Patty initiated the project after coming back from an event where she talked to several people who said they were overwhelmed and had to drag themselves there, “because I know it’ll be good for me.” Patty’s hunch was that there were lots of introverts out there who wanted to attend events and wanted to have a good experience, but so many offerings were just downright anti-introvert!
So to follow up on that hunch, we created a survey. We’ve received almost 100 responses and have a goal of reaching 200. Here are a few insights so far:
The biggest stresses at large events include:
- unstructured networking
- little to no opportunity for meaningful connections
- not enough places/opportunities to get away from crowds
- pressure to attend social activities before or after (and in addition to) the regular schedule
When asked what affect these stresses had on the event experience, one respondent wrote, “When I take breaks or leave early, I feel like I’m missing out, even though doing so is crucial to my sanity.” Another said, “I usually love them [events] and spend a lot of time with lots of new people (although no parties and annoying exuberance please!), but I’m knackered the week after.”
And in the spirit of “everything would be perfect if they would just listen to ME” :-), we asked this question: “If you were in charge, what changes would you make to conferences/events that would result in a better personal and professional experience for you?”
The answers, along with additional insights and experiences, will inform “The Introvert’s Event Survival Guide” Patty and I share later next month with survey responders. Until then, I want to share four quick tips that will help make attending your next event a little less stressful, and maybe even fun!
Give yourself permission to leave when you need to leave. Nothing says you have to be present every minute of every event. Often you can get the handouts, a recording or notes from a colleague afterward. They give you a schedule and act like it’s do or die, but you have a choice to follow it or not! The alternative is ending the day feeling like you’ve been run over by a Mac truck… which doesn’t exactly support having a positive, energizing experience.
[pullquote]”To be prepared is half the victory.” ~ Miguel De Cervantes[/pullquote]
Take on the mental role of host. Plan to focus on making others feel welcome by smiling, asking questions and drawing out those who look uncomfortable. Think of a few stock questions in advance: “What’s the best presentation you’ve been to so far?” or “What did you think of the lunch keynote?” Don’t spend lots of energy trying to be dazzling; be fully present, curious and sincere. Own your energy.
Anticipate discomfort. A few things we know for certain: room temperatures fluctuate, food quality is a toss-up, and the availability of scheduled free time is unlikely. Look at the agenda and decide in advance where, if needed, you can go back to your room or go for a walk. Consider the advice from this survey respondent: “Planning REALLY helps, like, bringing a bag with layered clothes, drinks and snacks to events with a packed schedule.”
Learn to say “No, thank you.” One of the biggest stresses is all of the social extras and obligations that come with being at an event, including (but not limited to) the happy hours, early breakfast meetings and going out with the gang for dinner. While you might feel out-of-the-loop temporarily because you missed hearing the story about the time your boss caught a fish “this big,” chances are you’ll appreciate your choice to recharge alone much more. Learn to say a firm “No, thanks,” and without excuses or being defensive, take care of yourself.
Until that day when planners intentionally make events more introvert friendly (which I’m guessing more than a few extroverts would appreciate as well!), we’ll just have to take matters into our own hands and do what we can to take care of ourselves.
How about you? What would you change if you were in charge? What’s helped you survive and thrive at large events? Please share in the comments!
And if you’d like to take our survey, you have until February 4: www.surveymonkey.com/s/YQXJW3Q
Christa M. Miller says
I recently had an interesting experience at a conference where, as the host organization's PR rep, I pretty much had to be "on"… for the entire time.
Normally I would unapologetically take all the suggestions you made, but this time I found myself so jacked up that instead of taking time to be totally alone — which made me feel as disconnected as being in a crowd normally does — I found myself identifying 2-3 individuals with whom I could "ground" myself at various points over the four days I was there. So, I would run around meeting and greeting, and when I drained, I'd find an "introvert buddy" and chat for a short time and that was enough to recharge. (This included the afterparties.)
Of course, on the train ride home, I absolutely crashed. I had to tell my seatmate that I wasn't being deliberately rude; I'd simply been four straight days with people. And it did take me the week to recover. But I think I managed it all OK, and I'd do it that way again if I absolutely had to!
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Patty K says
Hey Beth…this point is the most frustrating for me:
little to no opportunity for meaningful connections
I *love* to hear speakers and learn new things. However, I don't need to travel hundreds of miles and spend thousands of dollars to do so. I can get information online or in books. I can watch speakers on video. What I can't get is the energy and connection that comes from meeting – face to face – with like-minded others who are interested enough in the subject that *they too* will spend the money and time to be there.
Except there's no time to interact and really get to know the other attendees. Unless you count quick chats in the bathroom line-up, the awkward early morning walk-into-a-roomful-of-strangers "networking opportunity" or the at-the-end-of-the-day-when-I-feel-like-a-dishrag after party/drinks in the lounge. (Which, despite best intentions, I am *always* too tired/drained/people-overloaded to participate in.)
I'd like to see more balance. Less "information firehose" from the stage and more opportunity to discuss how we might apply the new things we've learned. Ideally by discussing the new concepts in small groups with the other attendees. It helps integrate the learning…and gives an opportunity to really get to know people.
I could go on and on.
Someone ought to do something about this! 😉
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I'm smiling because I described in your survey exactly what Patty K was talking about above. The time to PROCESS the information is missing at conferences. Having been an educator for so long, I spot this right away. Kids—and adults—can't do much with information if it is just spewed out. And, especially for introverts, we need to think and discuss and figure out how to apply it in meaningful ways. But what do they do? Pack us in like sardines, talk AT us, answer a couple of audience questions, and dismiss us to go to the next large session.
I would rather have fewer sessions, but with more time to integrate the learning into my setting, my situation, my life. I, too, am wiped at the end of the day and don't get much out of the 'social hours.' I'm thinking I know who my buddies should be at BlogWorld next year (hint, hint, Patty and Beth). : )
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Tammy Redmon says
Well as a non-introvert who has planned many events, can I just say that I love you called us out! You know though I do believe that just as your introvert counterparts feel that 'if they leave, they miss out', I feel that if I don't fill the day with captivating information and activities, I haven't done my job.
I appreciate the need for rest and breaks. I learned that with planning lunch time keynotes. I believe working lunches are for the birds! And yet it is industry standard. One change that I will welcome with my introvert friends. That is the space for that great networking that you mentioned above. Very needed.
One thing I found to be interesting in your list above of the stresses at events, is that a couple cancel each other out. If you don't have scheduled activities, you won't make connections because if you want to get away to quiet place, you'll miss the unstructured blessings of the day. haha, now that is a true extrovert talking!
But seriously, finding a balance for all is key and self-care is of utmost importance during the day. I will be watching this conversation closely as I am planning a Small Business Conference down here in the South Sound for April and a Day of Empowerment for Women in September. Perhaps I will consult more with you on these to get the eye of an introvert on the planning.
Thanks for the great insight.
I recently attended a 4-day out-of-town conference and managed my energy surprisingly well (surprising because, for one, I'm still learning that I actually need to PLAN energy management — as in SCHEDULE it — for it to happen; and secondly, I actually was driving 45 minutes both ways, staying at a relative's home, and operating on about 4-5 hours of sleep each of the 4 nights!).
What I did:
– I gave myself permission to skip the evening social networking the first day of the event,
– I got up early every morning to do either cardio or strength training before traveling to the event,
– I ate frequently (every 3 hours on average) and primarily fruits, vegetables, nuts, and nutrition bars
– I drank copious amounts of water, about a gallon a day
– I had lunch and dinner breaks in the car usually by myself, with the exception of one of the days when I had lunch with one other person
Being perceived as an extrovert because of my outgoing personality, managing my time and energy this way is a challenge and I sometimes have felt like I have to "sneak" or be on the down low, but I get so much more out of educational events — especially those that are all-day — when my exposure to people is managed!
I also meant to add that I agree with Tammy's observation that creating opportunities for meaningful relationships to take place via structure networking seems to contradict the introverted need for rest and breaks.
I think perhaps the structured networking would facilitate smaller groups of say 2, 3 or 4 people. Larger networking components could be offered that were optional.
Couple that with mini-breaks throughout, we'd be golden!
Beth, I am sooo glad I found your site! I've been through what you've described here so many times. Reading your posts AND the comments of my fellow introverts makes me feel ever so much better. I visit your site and breathe a big sigh and say "Aaahh, these are my people!"
In another life as a conference producer in London of major global events I looked at exactly this. how to make an event more meaningful, accessible and productive for the individual delegate so they get the best out of their experience with the minimal amount of personal cost or discomfort. Most people, extroverts included find it hard in a mass of people and activity to extract exactly what they need. Being a highly introverted person myself I was however well aware of the energy sacrifices required whilst at conferences. I created a delegate networking space both onsite and online so that people could make connections at their own pace before, during and after the event. The onsite space ran intimate and informal discussions and debate with workshops, solutions focused presentation from peers on key industry issues or just simply a cup of tea, a friendly face to offer it to you and a small comfortable space to re-charge. the online networking space allowed folks to connect with other delegates but also speakers and to raise issues to create debate and request for discussion at the conference itself. It worked well but i had to work hard to get extroverted colleagues buy-in. and it makes no money as such so not a popular add on to those holding the purse strings…