Should introverts go to conferences?

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Today’s guest post is by fellow introvert and Founder of Twisted Sleeve, Jo L K Moore

The introverts were, I assume, at home hiding under their duvets on the day that conferences were voted the business world’s preferred form of networking. But despite our clear handicap in this area, we’ve have had a good crack at it. A quick Google search reveals pages and pages of survival guides, top tips, and plans of actions to help weary introverts power through the seemingly never-ending “nice to meet you”s.

CONFERENCE UNEASE

As a multi-passionate person, I’ve attended conferences on a range of topics. At academic conferences, I put my awkwardness down to my inexperience and lowly postgraduate status. At activist conferences, I blamed my overwhelm on the other attendees’ overzealousness.

But last year I finally had a ticket to a conference for people exactly like me – the World Domination Summit (WDS) in Portland, Oregon.  The attendees, the speakers, the break-out sessions – they were all spot on. This was it.

Except, less than half a day into the conference, I found myself hiding in my hotel room, having to sit out the break-out sessions I’d been so excited about. It was all too much. I was gutted.

It was time, I decided, to admit that my awkward conference history couldn’t be blamed on the conferences I attended. The problem was me. I was just too introverted. I decided I was done with conferences.

And yet, less than one year after making that decision, I’m already dreaming of going to a new conference. Taking place in Berlin, Alive is closer to home than WDS. It’s in a city I love. The speakers are inspiring. I’m passionate about the topics. I want to go.

But, knowing the emotional rollercoaster conferences take me on, is it worth it? Or, as introverts, is it time to hang up our name badges and ask ourselves if conferences might actually be doing us more damage than good?

THE CASE AGAINST CONFERENCES

1.     We don’t enjoy small talk

Networking at conferences is like starting university – everyone asks and answers the same two questions over and over again:

  • Where are you from?
  • What do you do?

In my experience, this kind of conversation doesn’t go deep enough to lead to new relationships or new ideas. Of all the people I’ve spoken to at conferences, I’ve only stayed in touch with one. I’ve also never had an “aha” moment over a canapé.

However, when I’ve met individuals through social media or the blogosphere and met up with them for a coffee, I’ve had fascinating, personal, and productive conversations. I can’t count the number of ideas, collaborations, and projects that have come out of these discussions.

As introverts, we get so much more out of deep, one-on-one conversations than we get from small talk, so why bother with the chit chat?

2.     Socialising drains us

In-person events wear us out. Smiling and talking all day is tiring. The ups and downs of getting excited about a speaker only to end up too overwhelmed to hear them speak or ask them a question is exhausting.

Even when conference organizers go out of their way to make their events introvert-friendly, you can’t escape that over-ambitious part of yourself that doesn’t want you to miss out. There’s also always that well-meaning attendee who comes to check on you when you’re taking a breather.

Surely it makes more sense to keep our energy levels up and to get the same information from books, TED talks, and podcasts than to wind up miserable and unable to function?

3.     We’re good at networking from home

The internet has made it possible for us to sit at home, snuggled up in our pyjamas, and meet people from all over the world. Indeed, my interaction with likeminded folk online has led to work experience, collaborations, and jobs. There’s no way I would lead the location independent lifestyle I lead right now were it not for my having a web presence and using social media.

But it’s not just that virtual networking is possible. Introverts tend to be better writers than speakers. We like to take our time, mull over what we’re trying to say, and choose our words carefully. Many of us express ourselves better by typing than by speaking. Why shouldn’t we play to our strengths and network in the environment in which we excel?

4.     We can’t compete with extroverts

Just as we tend to be more talented with a keyboard than with a microphone, extroverts thrive at conferences. They’re in their element, introducing people, building new relationships, and learning new things.

To be blunt, how can we compete with that? As fascinating as we may be, we tend not to communicate that very well to crowds of strangers. Why don’t we just let the extroverts get on with it?

THE VERDICT

It seems to me that conferences are often more stress than they’re worth for introverts and that it would make more sense for us to focus our efforts on forms of networking which play to our strengths. Indeed, opting to sit out on conferences could be a perk of being an introverted business owner.

That said, the head and the heart don’t always agree. I still find myself wanting to go to Alive and I’m sure I’m not the only introvert who longs to enjoy conferences. So I won’t rule them out quite yet. I just won’t make them the focus of my approach to networking.

OVER TO YOU…

Do you get a lot out of conferences or are they more hassle than they’re worth? Do you think introverted business owners should make themselves attend conferences? Leave a comment below!

 

About the Author: Untitled

Battling her British social awkwardness, Joanna L K Moore runs Twisted Sleeve, where she helps shy girls get the confidence they need to do what they were born to do. A multipotentialite through and through, Jo’s also a content co-ordinator, an illustrator at hey, there blogger, and a writer currently working on the second draft of a young adult novel. You can find out more about Jo here.


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22 thoughts on “Should introverts go to conferences?

  1. Interesting article and I can identify with a lot of what you said. I’ve been guilty in the past of turning up to events late so I could skip the pre event networking. But I can’t help feeling that introverts should be forcing themselves to face their demons. There’s no substitute for real life relationships IMO. I’ve had to do a lot of networking over the years and while it got a bit easier, it’s never going to come naturally.
    What I’ve always found is networking events that are based around a particular activity i.e. speed networking are much easier than walking into a room full of strangers. But unfortunately conferences tend to present open networking opportunities. It’s a while since I’ve been to a conference but here are a few ideas that might help make the networking a bit easier. Quick disclaimer though, I haven’t tried any of these out, I’ve literally just come up with them.
    1) Try to go to a conference with someone else. It’s easier to socialise when you’ve got a wing man/girl
    2) Keep an eye on the event hashtag on Twitter because chances are other attendees will be live tweeting. If you see someone who you may have something in common with either from a personal or professional POV, ask if they’d like to meet for a coffee during the next break.
    3) Try to come up with a reason for people to seek you out. Can you offer a free consultation, e-book or similar?
    4) See if you can arrange a meetup at the event for attendees with something in common e.g. Londoners or freelance writers
    I’d be interested to see if anyone else thinks any of these ideas might work?
    PS Alive sounds great, can’t believe I haven’t heard about it.

  2. I definitely agree with you about in person relationships being very important. But I would say that I get so much more from one-on-one in person meet ups that networking. I’d definitely get on way better with speed networking! I love that idea!

    And you’re right about pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones. You have to stretch yourself. I think I just feel that, yes, you should push yourself every now and then, particularly if a conference comes up that is spot on for you or very important, but that, overall, perhaps it makes more sense to focus on the things we’re better at.

    I think every time I’ve been to a conference it’s been with friends and I’m fine until they start networking. Then I panic, but that’s more of a shy girl issue than an introvert one.

    I love your other ideas though. My Swiss friend hosted a French walk during WDS – a great idea for her to make friends.

    And yes, Alive sounds AMAZING! We definitely need something like this in Europe. I hope this article helps get the word out about it!

  3. The reason why those 2 mainstream questions usually don’t lead to a good relationship is because most of the time you can’t relate to the answers. The best connections are usually made when you fnd common ground almost instantly.

    I’m an introvert but I do like socializing. Just that I’m very selective about it. That being said, introvert or not, I would still go out of my way sometimes to attend these events. The benefits can be worth it.

    • That makes sense. You need to get to the deeper levels to find something to connect over.

      I definitely think it’s a personal choice and that it depends on the event. I’d love to go to Alive even though I know it will/would be a challenge for me.

  4. Jo – normally I’d agree with you – I currently do 90% of my networking through social media, with the remaining 10% being through a wonderful online networking group that’s set up to be introvert-friendly. So it’s definitely possible for us introverts to network all we need without getting up from our desks.

    BUT. I’ve just finished reading a BRILLIANT book by Devora Zack called “Networking for People who Hate Networking” that has some great ideas for how introverts can network – in person – in ways that play to our strengths. She has what she calls a “3P” system (Pace, Pause and Process) that she applies to each type of networking interaction she covers (from conferences to networking events to chatting to someone on a plane).

    It’s the first book I’ve read on networking for introverts that doesn’t try to encourage us to “get over our introversion and network like a pro!” Instead, it takes the view that we can adapt the process of networking to suit us… and I really like what she’s come up with.

    Well worth checking out if your’e looking for some good reading material 😉 I’ll be writing a review of it – hopefully – later on this week.

    Blessings

    TANJA

    • I’ll definitely have to add that to my reading list! I’ll keep an eye out for your review.

      Obviously anything that can make networking better suited to us is great. This article was definitely meant as more of a discussion prompt than a definitive ‘This is what I think!’

      Thanks for the recommendation!

  5. I typically go to conferences for the speakers and sessions; I choose a person or two to network with at sessions or breaks. The key for me is to pace myself–if I try to be super-social early on, I’ll be exhausted later and probably skip some of the conference sessions. It’s difficult to establish and maintain relationships from a conference alone; I do see some of the same people at conferences, so I have more opportunity to build a relationship over multiple events. And smaller conferences allow for deeper networking than large conferences.

    • I definitely need to research and apply some more tactics for coping with conferences as an introvert. I think a lot of the pressure comes from myself, so I like that you limit yourself as a way of reducing overwhelm.

  6. I find I can do conferences – but my version of “doing” a conference doesn’t look like an extrovert’s, and most of them would probably think I’m wasting my time even being there. But I find that if I out aside the voices of “you should do everything you possibly can or you’ll miss out!!!” I can prioritize the two or three sessions with indispensable information, spend a lot of time observing, collecting business cards, and processing quietly on the sidelines, that I come away with lots of leads to pursue online, alone, in my own time, and newly inspired by my proximity to so much interesting stuff. No, I don’t make friends there usually, nor do I actually make business connections, but I find new directions to explore later that can be invaluable.

    In short, yes, introverts can get a lot out of conferences if we make our own way of doing them and don’t listen to the cultural script (written by. An extrovert!) of do it all now now!!

  7. First off I have to say….I LOVE you silly, crazy British chicks (Kathryn & Joanna)! I’m a fellow introvert with a heaping helping of silly and crazy myself so I just love, love what you guys are doing to empower us introverts and share your goodness all genuinely and with humor. My kinda gals!

  8. I think it’s about making the conferences work for you, which is hard in an extrovert-dominated arena. It’s no secret our current market society is set up mostly for extroverts. Conferences, in their stereotypical form, are merely a super concentrated version of it. The trick isn’t to avoid attending, but to be able to tell yourself that if someone has a problem with your “way” of attending—they can go suck it!

    Related to that, I think this is something us introverts can forge better dialogue around: building confidence. There so much discussion around WHO we are and WHY we are… but I think we can do better when it comes to owning that side of ourselves. I may be as far introverted as you can get, but I still see myself as a sassy, sarcastic, dominant person. I’m not sure why I let conferences bulldoze over that in a heartbeat!

    • I love that last paragraph! And that’s what I’m doing – my ‘thing’ is confidence – that’s what my website’s all about. I’m really pushing myself at the moment to not care what people think. The other day I felt really self-conscious reading a self-help book in public but, instead of hiding the cover, I told myself that it didn’t matter whether strangers thought I was a loser or not because I was learning.

  9. Hey Jo – great post, given me a few things to think about. I’ve recently been trying to work out if I’m more introverted or not and I’m still not sure, maybe just about on the introverted side of the scale. So reading a piece like this helps to give me perspective. I think I’m a bit shy – but not sure if that makes me an introvert?

    I have never done anything like this before, but this year I have really pushed myself and am going to Alive and WDS – so will know for sure by the end of July if I like them or not! Am going on my own too. I think for me it’s about feeling safe – and that means do I feel comfortable being myself, am I around some like-minded people etc.

    I recently won tickets to a dinner talk with Simon Sinek – inspiring talk – but had no idea what to expect and when I arrived found it was full of ‘city-types’ (very business-like and lots of people form finance) – not an environment I feel comfortable in. There was a 30 min reception beforehand and then I realise that everyone has come with someone, so I sat on a chair for like 10 mins feeling really awkward just browsing on my phone. To kill some more time I decided to walk to the bathroom take my time, etc. We had allocated seating, and I was praying that I would be next to someone I could talk to – and as luck would have it was sat to a very nice guy and we had some very good, interesting conversation that evening – we had some common interests. So came away feeling much better with myself. But honestly, there was a moment when I was sitting in the bathroom where I felt a bit panicky and though I need to get out of here.. and I nearly did. Am hoping at something like Alive and WDS I will feel safe enough – that’s what I’m hoping/expecting.

    • I’ve been talking and thinking a lot about the crossovers between shyness and introversion recently. I find it harder than some people to tell that difference because I’m a shy introvert, so it’s hard to tell which bits of me are to do with which. But on my site, Twisted Sleeve, I try and get my readers to figure out whether or not they’re introverts because I don’t want them to assume that all of their quietness is shyness and that they need to make themselves loud. I want them to realise that introversion is fine!

      Good luck with both conferences! I won a ticket to go to ALIVE so maybe I’ll see you there!

      I can totally relate to that dinner. It’s such a relief when you find someone who you can talk to. I think with WDS if you just have in your head that everyone is welcoming and lovely, you could probably get to the point where you just walk up to a group of strangers. It wouldn’t be like in most normal situations where people might find that odd; WDS-ers would be curious to get to know you. I almost wish I’d gone to WDS on my own because I found that, in a group of friends, I had less need to meet new people and, in a way, that meant I missed out on making as many new connections.

  10. Hi! This post could not be written any better!
    Reading through this post reminds me of my old room mate!
    He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this article to him.
    Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Interesting. I haven’t really been to any conferences before but they’ve always intrigued me – the thought of hearing inspiring speakers sounds fun. I actually hadn’t considered the fact that a million other people will also be there and will want to chit-chat! That makes it sound much less appealing! I wonder if there are any introverts-only conferences?

  12. I handle it by speaking at conferences. I write the content, I control the agenda, people approach me and I have a built in reason to talk to anyone that is ‘easy’. It’s a lot of work and it’s exhausting – but that’s ok. I have time off afterwards.In fact,

    When someone organises that introvert conference, please invite me to speak! (Or is this the place on the interwebz where us reading and commenting get together and make it happen?) I’ll do the keynote 🙂

  13. Kathryn you slam dunked this one. Of course I’m not much for attending conferences either unless I’m highly motivated and excited about the topic. That being said, I think that one should only go to conferences if they are highly motivated, don’t feel overwhelmed by just the thought of it and know that they can leave the conference at any time.

  14. I’m a bigtime introvert and run my own business. I love to go to work-related conferences only IF I have my own hotel room so I can have down time after the day long hype.

    I have just talked myself out of a church conference because I’ll have to share a hotel room with 3 other people and I know I will be overwelmed and not sleep much. So, I’m not going. I tried to explain it to a friend, but think I just sounded crazy. Unless, you’re an introvert, you won’t get it.

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