Getting the Most from the ACT Conference When You are an Introvert
“Between one-third and one-half of the people in the world are introverts.
Keep in mind being introverted doesn’t necessarily mean you’re shy (although you certainly may be.) Shyness is a lack of comfort in social settings and a fear of social judgment.
Introversion has more to do with how you respond to stimulation, where you draw your energy, and how you recharge that energy. Extroverts crave stimulation; introverts feel most alive and capable in quieter, low-key environments.
Neither is good or bad; they’re just different. The key is to recognize the difference so you can put yourself in what Susan Cain, author of calls your “zone of stimulation.” If you’re an introvert, your zone of stimulation tends to be a quiet, private place.
Back to the “quiet and privacy” thing.
Unfortunately, quiet and privacy tend to be in short supply during the high-energy, action-packed social swirl of a professional conference.
So how do you not just survive but maximize your conference experience if you’re an introvert? The key is to do a little planning (something introverts naturally do well), take the right approach, and most importantly play to your strengths as an introvert:
Conferences are typically packed with action: Sessions, seminars, meetings, breakouts, meetups… lots of “on” time that creates a serious energy drain for an introvert.
Extroverts typically draw energy from others, while introverts typically recharge their own mental and emotional batteries. So schedule some down time into your day to help you recharge. (Susan calls those periods “restorative niches.”)
Plan to take a quiet walk, or retreat to your room for thirty minutes, or to read materials that help you prepare for a later session.
Whatever you do, just find a way that works for you to disconnect from other humans and let yourself recharge. That way you’ll stay fresh. And if you’re worried you’ll miss something…
This is going to sound a little strange, but it's actually possible to recharge
Here's how I do it:
Pick a keynote session where you know the audience will be relatively large. (Since your goal is to disconnect from humans, you'll find that a larger audience creates a less intimate setting — perfect in which to withdraw and be alone).
Come into the session just a minute or so before it's scheduled to start. This minimizes the chances you'll have to engage in conversation (people are much less likely to talk to you once a speaker is on stage).
Find a quiet area (if it's not a packed room). Don't sit too close to the front (because that creates a certain intimacy with the speaker — and you're looking to be a bit more removed). I tend to prefer the back row — but this often back-fires based on the size of the room. Frustratingly, sometimes people in the back row insist on trying to have a conversation . I hate that.
Once you're comfortably seated — pull out the laptop. In a large keynote, that's not rude — in fact, these days, it's often expected and encouraged. Tweet comments and quotes from the session. This has a dual advantage: First, it gives you a chance to be heads-down into the talk — and much less likely that anyone will approach you. Second, and more importantly, by tweeting during the session, you'll find you make some connections to people (that are also tweeting). In every keynote, there are usually a handful of people that are tweeting, and you'll find yourself giving a virtual nod and hat-tip to a few of them. When I live-tweet sessions, I almost always feel this connection to one or two people — who I then recognize at some other time during the conference. Makes it much easier to just say hello.
Introverts tend to work well alone and in small, familiar groups. If that’s you, it may be against your nature to actively create new connections – even if those connections could be incredibly beneficial.
So put your planning skills to work. Determine the people you want to meet and connect ahead of time online. Send a quick note saying you look forward to seeing that person at the conference. That way you get plenty of time to craft your “message” and make it perfect… and later you can simply walk up and say, “Hi, I’m Dharmesh – it’s really great to meet you in person!”
Another approach: Write a blog post that identifies a list of people you'd love to connect with at the conference. As an example, see my post “”. This has several advantages: First, without fear, it helps you identify you'd love to meet — and why. Second, you might find that some of those people actually come across your blog post and reach out to you (Internet FTW!). Third, though you may not make a connection — you may have friends/readers that know these people and volunteer to make an introduction.
The power of this inbound networking approach is that you don't have to interrupt anyone. Connections happen organically. And, in the unlikely event that you don't connect with any of the people on your list — what was the harm?
Everyone needs great connections. Create a plan that ensures you can meet the people you most want or need to meet.
You want to meet someone you didn’t know ahead of time you wanted to meet, but walking up alone and “cold-meeting” a stranger is tough.
Standing beside a friend while she introduces you to someone new is much easier, because it allows her take care of the preliminaries: “Ann, I’d like you to meet my friend Dharmesh. He’s the CTO of a marketing software company in Boston.”
Everyone you already know knows at least one person you want or need to know. The best connections are often made through colleagues and mutual acquaintances. Ask for “referrals” from people you respect and provide them for people you respect – and go out of your way to provide them for friends and colleagues who could use the hand.
We all tend to gravitate towards the people and information that validates our own perspectives and points of view. It’s more comfortable – and potentially less contentious or confrontational – to mingle with people who share our beliefs and outlooks.
So if you attend a conference with multiple speakers and a menu of sessions, for every two sessions you choose that sound interesting, pick one session that you wouldn’t normally attend. Purposely step outside your comfort zone. Commit ahead of time to acting on at least one approach or strategy that you learn; that way you’ll listen constructively instead of critically.
Then talk to someone on the way out. Say, “You know, I walked in here thinking I wouldn’t get anything out of (whatever topic)… but I was surprised by…” That’s all you need to say to start a great conversation, because people love talking to people who have seen their particular light.
Many people return from a conference with a bag full of schwag and a notebook full of scribbled ideas, thought-starters, and takeaways. A couple days later the bag is in a closet, the notebook is in a drawer… and it’s back to business as usual.
That’s especially true for the introvert who comes home drained and exhausted; by the time you recharge your batteries, your great ideas and new perspectives may have been lost.
This is one of the ways your need for quiet time can be a real advantage. Use your quiet time to think about and plan how you will maximize your return on the people you’ve met, the ideas you’ve embraced, and the knowledge you’ve gained.
A conference can be a great experience, but it shouldn’t just be an experience – it should, in ways large and small, be life changing. Use your quiet time to make concrete plans for how you will actually change your life.
I'd suggest blocking out a half day on your schedule the conference. Devote it to “absorbing” some of your thoughts and learnings and coming up with a way to apply them. Yes, yes, I know — you already spent 3 days away from the office, and there are a hundred emails waiting for you. But, that 4 hours will be some of the highest leverage time you ever spend. And, as it turns out, those emails will be waiting for you. In short, just block out the time just pretend the conference is longer than it is.
Speaking of blocking out time, for introverts, somewhat longer conferences (3–4 days) are usually easier than shorter conferences. The reason is that with a longer conference, you have time to “settle in”, know your environment — and start getting to know some people and faces. With a 1 or 2 day conference, by the time any of that happens, you're heading back out again.
Maybe you’re leading a seminar. Maybe there’s a social gathering with key customers and you’ll need to be especially “on.” Maybe there’s a user group session where you need to interact and totally engage.
Plan ahead. Schedule a recharge period immediately before. Go to a session where you know you’ll only have to listen. Have a quiet lunch instead of a group meal. Every session, every event, every meeting is important… but some are more important than others. Make sure you have the mental and social energy you need when you need it most.
Most introverts are great listeners, especially in one-on-one settings. Use that skill to your advantage. Listen. Ask insightful questions. Ask a person how they did what they did. Or why. Or what they learned from doing it, or liked about doing it. Asking real questions – and paying attention to the answers – is one of the greatest compliments you can give.
And it’s one of the best ways to make real connections – and real friends."
Posted by PermanTech at 8:05 PM