The following is a staff post by Melissa Batai. Please join me in welcoming her to the site!
Attending conferences in your professional field is essential. While you will likely learn valuable information and new strategies and tips from the sessions you attend, there can be even more value outside the sessions. Conferences can offer your tremendous opportunities to make contacts within your field, to form partnerships and to even find new jobs.
If you are an extrovert, you likely thrive on conferences and interacting with strangers. If you are an introvert… not so much. A mild introvert is likely to feel discomfort in a conference, while the setting can be terrifying and stomach churning for a serious introvert.
However, if you are an introvert, there are some ways you can make your conference experience more fun and productive:
- Learn the list of attendees before the conference. As an introvert, approaching someone you don’t know can be uncomfortable. Take the time before the conference to learn who will be attending and to look at the photos and websites of those you think you would like to connect with. Sometimes just matching a face with a name and learning a bit about the person through her website can make you more comfortable approaching her. (By the way, this also works well for job interviews. Instead of walking into a room of nameless interviewers, you can feel a bit more like you know them if you have done your research beforehand.)
- Spend some conference time with an extroverted colleague. If you know some people who will be at the conference with you, find them and spend some time with them at the conference. If they are extroverted, they will likely be able to introduce you to several new people. Of course, this isn’t your only solution; you must also make your own way through the conference, but having someone else introduce you to a few people can be a nice way to break the ice.
- Exercise your acting skills. Many actors are introverts; acting allows them to become someone they feel they could not be in real life. If you have acted before, use your acting skills to pretend that you are an extrovert attending the conference who is confident and loves to meet new people. This little mind game can make meeting people a bit easier.
- Don’t skip the meals. If the conference provides lunch, take advantage of it. Introverts often do better in smaller settings, and sitting with 5 to 7 other people at lunch can be a great way to introduce yourself and get to know a few other conference goers. Do this for a few meals and you will have connected with 15 to 20 attendees over the course of the conference.
- Introduce yourself in sessions. Many times people come to a session 5 or 10 minutes early and just wait quietly for the session to begin. Take advantage of that time to introduce yourself to the person sitting next to you and to ask them a bit about their business as well as exchange business cards.
What Not to Do at a Conference
Although it can be tempting, avoid staying with the same person through the entire conference. Typically, an introvert might meet one or two people and then seek those people out throughout the conference. While this is great for an introvert’s comfort level, and it allows them to develop a deeper relationship with one or two people, the introvert is missing out on all of the other opportunities to meet new people and make connections with them. As uncomfortable as it is, you should try to make yourself meet more than a handful of people.
Sometimes it can seem like the business world was designed for extroverts. Certainly, in social situations such as conferences, extroverts seem to thrive. However, there are plenty of steps that introverts can take to make the most of their conference experience instead of being the proverbial wall flower.
What strategies would you recommend for introverts attending a conference? As an introvert, myself, I have used these strategies to become more comfortable at conferences.