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Are you an introvert who dreads large conferences? Do all those people make you feel anxious and overwhelmed? 

In-person conferences and events are growing in popularity again. Conference events accompanied by plenty of networking can provoke a lot of anxiety for an introvert, especially if you are lacking confidence, even if you get charged up with ideas and concepts that are interesting and exciting.

When conferences don’t cater to the needs of introverts – who make up about half of the population, introverts are less likely to participate with groups or contribute their well-thought-out ideas and insights.

When introverts were asked on social media what they’d like to see at conferences to cater better to introverts, there were plenty of responses to the questions: What are some introvert-friendly approaches to conferences that you have experienced or implemented? What are some things you would like to see to make conferences and events more introvert-friendly? 

Tune in to hear what other introverts had to say about their conference experiences and learn some tips to help you thrive as an introvert at conferences.

Books Mentioned

Susan Cain Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Contact the host of the Quiet and Strong Podcast:

David Hall
Author, Speaker, Educator, Podcaster
quietandstrong.com
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david@quietandstrong.com

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Podcast Transcript

Introvert Friendly Conferences Ep 77

Hello, and welcome to the Quiet and Strong Podcast, especially for introverts.  I am your host, David Hall and creator of quietandstrong.com.  This is a weekly podcast dedicated to understanding the strengths and needs of introverts. Introversion is not something to fix, but to be embraced. Normally we will air each episode on Monday mornings.  Be sure to subscribe on your favorite platform, leave a review, tell a friend, help get the word out there.

In person conferences and events are becoming more regular lately.

I enjoy attending conferences and look forward to the speakers and presentations and perhaps seeing some old friends and making some new connections. As an introvert, I get charged by ideas and concepts that are interesting and exciting to me. I like talking to people and I am not necessarily drained all by people.  What drains me is too much small talk.  I get drained when the subjects are not that interesting to me and I have to strain to come up with something to say.  I also get drained when the environment is too noisy and it is hard to hear the other person.  I don’t mind noisy environments and loud music, just as long as I am not trying to talk or have a conversation. 

I attended a conference recent;y.  It was the first in person conference I had attended in over 2 years and it felt good to be out and about. I was giving a presentation and was very excited about it.  I was looking forward to the other speakers and presentations and perhaps seeing some old friends.  I did have a great time, my presentation went well, and I had some great conversations with old friends and new.  I reflected on how this confidence and sense of well being and peace I was experiencing was not always the case for me.  I know that conference events accompanied with plenty of networking can provoke a lot of anxiety for an introvert, especially if they are lacking confidence. 

Conferences have many purposes, but I sometimes feel like the organizers and presenters do not accommodate for differences in personality type. While I’m sure the extroverts in the room love it, I hope I never have to rub the back of the stranger sitting next to me again.  This kind of thing can be torture for the introvert.

About half of the population are introverts. When conferences don’t cater to the needs of introverts, introverts are less likely to participate with groups or contribute their well-thought-out ideas and insights. Let’s make conferences better for everyone by making sure they are designed to meet the needs of all the attendees. Let’s be more involved in creating and also planning conferences.  Let’s give the feedback before and after the conference letting the organizers know what works well and what does not.  Let’s not accept the status quo, but put our needs and desires out there. I am not saying that all conferences have to fully cater to introverts, but the needs of introverts should be part of the planning process.  Sometimes there are specific conferences for introverts. I have presented at a couple of online conferences specifically for introverts.  Maybe I will find or organize an in-person conference especially for introverts.  I can hear the jokes now, “Who will come?” I think of a past guest Dr. Michael Alcee when he was a college psychologist, experienced the same kind of jokes as he was organizing a campus introvert club. “If they show, will they even talk?”  It turned out to be a very active group and a comfortable space as introverts found a respite from the extrovert world.  It turned out to be a very talkative group. So an in person conference especially for introverts could be a great experience. 

But what we are talking about today is conferences in general and working on making them more introvert friendly.

What are some introvert friendly approaches to conferences that you have experienced or implemented? What are some things you would like to see to make conferences and events more introvert friendly?  I put these questions out on social media and received some great responses.  Thank you if you contributed to this conversation!

There were many responses about having a quiet space to retreat to or maybe a quieter space for one on one conversation or a small group.  Here are some thoughts:

“Designated “serenity” space – for meditation and quiet time with loungey chairs and maybe even yoga mats, and no talking!”

“I think having some “conversation rooms” where small groups of people can duck in and chat about what they’re learning in a more sensory friendly manner. This could also be one place to get water and snacks so that there’s not a huge congregation in one spot.”

“A quiet room with relaxing music, massages and flavored waters.

Mediation class, outside seating not in the sum and a smaller boat tour.”

“Nooks and corners to rest and get away. A book corner.” 

“Private sitting space with monitors!” And I will add not only a space for you to recharge but also outlets to recharge your devices.

Introverts like to prepare for things in advance, so one commenter said:

“A detailed agenda with lots of breaks, published in advance to I can plan my attendance.”

Also physical space is important to the introvert.  Someone recommended

“smallish tables.”  I know I find it difficult at a large round table to chat with ten others, especially if the room is loud and I am trying to get to know them.

“Chairs not too close together so my personal space boundary is not breached.”  Personal space is important.  It will be interesting to see if the pandemic made a permanent change around this.

Some things may be part of your personal strategy.  One person said:

“arrive early to claim my seat of choice.” I know I employ this one.  I am particular about where I sit, but also don’t like to arrive late and push myself down a crowded row saying excuse me over and over getting to the one open seat.

There were some comments around networking:

“having evening programming that is more structured (not just open networking) and not until 10pm”.  Structure can be helpful for the introvert so they can know what to expect.  We like connecting, but bouncing around from person to person with endless small talk can be draining and not very effective for introverts.

“A participant list so I can work out in advance who I want to talk to.” Maybe there are people you want or need to connect with. Maybe you know them already, or maybe you have only exchanged emails, or there is an expert in your field that you would like to connect with and so on.

Someone else said “No post-conference drinks or networking…” Or I would say make these very optional, but available as there will be some that are very into this.  Sometimes I attend conference receptions and sometimes I don’t.  One thing I have done recently when attending an event I am dreading is to give myself permission to skip out if I give it a chance but find I am not enjoying it.  This reduces the anxiety tremendously.

 “Not too many (if any) mandatory networking sessions.” If there are mandatory sessions, how can they be introvert friendly?

“Something I personally find overwhelming (and a bit dreadful) is when there’s too much time to network & mingle, this feels especially difficult if I’m attending an event by myself. I love when there’s other options also happening at the same time (bonus guest lectures with a small audience, cool lounge spaces, small groups with ice breaker games, the option to leave & get fresh air, etc.)”

Also I heard that the day shouldn’t be packed too tightly.  But if it is, design your own introverted approach:

“Fresh air is key, or getting out to explore the area even if it means skipping sessions.”

“I’ve had to learn to give myself permission not to attend everything so that I save/replenish my energy for the sessions that are most important for me and my business.”

“It is important to remember if I’m speaking at the conference. I always try to stay at the hotel where the conference is being held so I can go up to my room to get a little alone time before heading back rejuvenated and excited to participate in the next session. If there is someone I want to talk with, I will set up a meeting or lunch vs trying to converse in a loud, crowded party or networking event.”  When you are out of town, the conference hotel room can be a great place to retreat to.  I always do my best to stay in the conference hotel when out of town. I attend plenty of local conferences and do miss having a room to retreat to when that happens.

“Conferences that don’t have something going on every minute of the day.”

“I try to make sure I carve out some re-energizing time through the day. I review the agenda and think of questions/comments I might want to share in advance if sessions. I aim for more small, shorter interactions and don’t put pressure upon myself to go to or stay long at large cocktail hours unless I’m enjoying myself.” Preparation is key for introverts.

Also here is something to keep in mind if you are leading a discussion. Don’t be afraid of a little silence, introverts sometimes need  a moment to gather their thoughts.  If you are an introvert, honor this thinking time as a great strength that you have and don’t worry about a little silence.

Conference organizers can also take some anxiety out of the unfamiliar by

having plenty of signs and a clear path where to start and where to go.  Have easy to read maps. Have friendly people look out for those that may seem lost.

While organizers can do much to make conferences introverted, take it upon yourself to approach the conference in your own introverted way. I apply this Susan Cain quote from her book, Quiet to conferences. 

“Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you’re supposed to.  Stay home on New Year’s Eve if that’s what makes you happy.  Skip the committee meeting.  Cross the street to avoid making aimless chitchat with random acquaintances.  Read.  Cook. Run. Write a story.  Make a deal with yourself that you’ll attend a set number of social events in exchange for not feeling guilty when you beg off.”

Again, do it your way while keeping in mind your goals for attending the event? 

So how do we put introvert friendly concepts into action?  Let’s be more involved in creating and also planning conferences.  Let’s give the feedback before and after the conference letting the organizers know what works well and what does not.  Let’s not accept the status quo, but put our needs and desires out there.

Of course keep working on gaining confidence as an introvert if needed.  Learn what works best for you in networking and also public speaking.  We have and will  continue to cover these topics on this podcast. My next two episodes will have guests talking about networking and also public speaking for introverts.

Thank you so much for joining me.  I look forward to further connecting with you.  Reach out at david@quietandstrong.com. Or check out the quietandstrong.com website which includes blog posts and links to social media channels.  Send me topics or guests you would like to see on the show. If you’re interested in getting to know yourself better, there is now a Free Typefinder Personality Assessment on the Quiet and Strong website. This free assessment will give you a brief report including the 4-letter Myers-Briggs code. You can purchase the full report if you’d like more details. I will add a link in the show notes. So many great things about being an introvert and so we need those to be understood.  Get to know your introverted strengths and needs and be Strong!

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