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