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Conference itineraries are packed with networking events and socializing–let’s not forget the dreaded icebreakers. Apparently, there’s a difference between networking and socializing, but for introverts, it’s all small talk. So why would we even consider going to a conference?
I’ll let you in on a little secret:
I’m an avid conference-goer. I’ve attended at least 1-2 conferences a year since I was fifteen. Yes, I willingly chose to participate in awkward conversations and stay in loud, crowded rooms for 8-10 hour intervals for ten consecutive years.
Every time I arrive at a conference, I wonder why I signed up. I’m usually exhausted from all of the packing, traveling, and just the thought of socializing. There’s also the belief that conferences weren’t made for people like me always in the back of my mind.
But every time I leave a conference, I’m glad I showed up. Conferences are the key to successful networking for introverts. If you’re looking to network without pretending to be an extrovert, here are 7 reasons to sign up for the next conference:
1. You just have to show up
Conferences are inconvenient, cost money, and most require travel to attend. Not to mention they take up anywhere from two to five days of your precious time. In other words, just being present at a conference shows your dedication and willingness to learn.
Although you may feel pressured to collect as many business cards as you can, you simply don’t have to. Unless you tell everyone you managed to grab 100 business cards, no one will ever know. They also won’t know that the only business card you collected was from trading cards with a close friend…
You’re at that conference for YOU. You came there to learn, meet like-minded people, and show your dedication. So let go of the notion that you have to fake it ’till you make it. Just show up and figure it out along the way.
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2. Look at it as an introvert networking binge
When I say you just have to show up, I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to make the best of it. I see conferences as introvert networking binges. You attend them, delve into social interaction, then retreat home to hibernate until the next conference.
I miss out on quite a few social events throughout the year due to pure exhaustion from work or classes, and these introvert networking binges catch me up to date.
You meet all the right people at conferences. Dedicated members of organizations usually make up the majority of conference attendees. The hard effort put into networking doesn’t go to waste because you’re likely surrounded by people that care as much as you do.
- Related post: Time Management Tips for Career-Oriented Introverts
3. You can prepare talking points
You can’t prepare for every conversation, but you can prepare your elevator speech for when you meet someone new or you’re trapped in an icebreaker. I bet you thought I was going to say elevator. But we all know getting trapped in an icebreaker is just as bad.
Usually, your name, position (job, student, etc.), and how many years of experience are enough for a good conversation starter. I like to think of 2-3 “fun facts” beforehand because random questions stump me. Somehow I forget my favorite color the moment it matters to someone else.
4. You can take risks
Sit next to someone you don’t know.
Spark up a conversation.
Introduce yourself to a speaker right after their lecture.
Take the risk and start a conversation with someone. You’ll be more comfortable because there’s less to process, plus you’re in charge of the conversation.
Conversations are scary, especially when you walk into one. It’s easy to become flustered as you try to catch up to speed.
There’s a lot to process as an introvert–the conversation topic, mood, body language–all while trying to formulate the words to express an opinion or thought. Because introverts think more before they speak compared to extroverts, it’s tougher to jump into a conversation that’s already flowing.
Sometimes conversations go south, and that’s completely normal. I can’t remember how many times I whispered “awkwaaard” as I walked away from one at a conference. You’re not going to hit it off with everyone.
The great thing about conferences is that there are so many attendees, it’s highly likely you won’t see that one person again. On the other hand, if you did enjoy talking to them, you could always make the effort to reach out. Either way, there’s no losing here, and you get to socialize on your own terms.
5. You can come and go whenever you please
For the first few years, I succumbed to the peer pressure of going to every single event. I felt guilty and FOMO because it seemed like no one else sat anything out. One of my friends also believed that missing an event was equivalent to wasting a portion of the money spent on a conference ticket.
Then I noticed a pattern–at the end of every conference, it was hard for me to function. My brain felt fried and my body was exhausted. I would travel back home in the worst mood because I pushed myself too hard.
If you need a break during the conference, listen to your body and take one. You’re not benefiting anyone by forcing yourself to act alive and happy to be there.
You don’t have to fake it ’till you make it. Trust me, I tried that, and it’s not worth the effort to keep up with a different persona. Just showing up takes a lot of energy for an introvert, so don’t make it harder for yourself.
I like to look at the conference schedule beforehand and make my own schedule of when I’ll retreat back to my hotel room or just sit in a corner away from crowds. You can choose which events you don’t want to miss then schedule your alone time around them.
Also, try to book a hotel room in the same hotel the conference is in or at least one that’s 5-10 minutes away. I literally take naps in between events, and I notice I’m calmer and more ready to socialize after.
As for the waste of money, think of it as missing classes at school. Just because you miss a few classes, doesn’t mean your entire tuition is wasted. And we all know we don’t regret sitting out those college classes.
- Related post: Time Management Tips for Introverts: Self-Care
6. You can do what introverts do best–listen & reflect
Although it seems like conferences are all about networking, there’s a lot of learning components where you just sit and listen.
If lectures are long enough, I include them in my schedule as times to recharge. The whole room is quiet except the speaker, and I can finally be in my own head.
“Though introverts are drained by interaction, we can take immense pleasure in watching the scene around us.” – Laurie A. Helgoe, PhD, Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life is Your Hidden Strength.
After the conference day is over, it’s only natural for introverts to run back to their hotel rooms to retreat and reflect. But of course, it’s also only natural for extroverts to plan social events after long conference days.
I used to feel really guilty about staying in when I’m told I should go out and meet more people. Now, I can’t deny that my happiest memories from conferences involve reflecting on the day.
Sometimes I write up an email to my favorite speaker or research topics that I really enjoyed. There are plenty of ways to benefit from conferences that not many people talk about. But that’s because introverts don’t need to talk to be happy. This also doesn’t mean we can’t be happy while talking…
7. You can engage in meaningful conversation
It’s not that introverts don’t like talking. They just prefer engaging in deep and meaningful conversation.
At conferences, you can bet that everyone has at least one common interest with you–the conference topic. That is to say, you can walk into a conversation you might enjoy engaging in just as easily as you can walk out of one that’s simply gossip.
Thankfully, conferences are where you exchange ideas, so you’re more likely to walk into a deep conversation on a topic you’re familiar with.
Networking or socializing doesn’t have to mean small talk. Stay true to who you are, and you’ll meet like-minded people and form authentic relationships!
- Related post: How to Build Lasting Friendships As An Introvert
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