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Cornered Office

with Mir Kamin

I'm a freelance writer and mother of two working from home, which theoretically means I can set my own schedule so as to best accommodate my family. In reality, "flexible hours" often equals "working too much." Yes, I'm my own boss; no, that doesn't mean life is easy. It's hard to leave the office when you live there. But I love what I do and feel very lucky. And not just because I get paid to work in my pajamas.

To learn more about Mir, check out her profile on Work It, Mom! or visit her blog at http://www.wouldashoulda.com/

10 Tips to Rock a Conference as an Introvert

Categories: Maybe I can pencil in a nap, Now I'm free(lancing)

19 comments

I’m back from Mom 2.0 Summit and I had a fantastic time. I truly did. And I say that as an introvert, which is why I thought today I would spend a little time talking about how to handle conferences if you maybe think you can’t handle conferences.

“But you’re not shy!” People say to me. “You like people! You’ll talk with anyone!” And all of that is true; I do like people and I don’t consider myself shy. Nonetheless, an introvert is someone who is sapped of energy through interpersonal interaction rather than energized by it, and so I am categorically an introvert even though I enjoy this stuff because—by the time I get home afterward—all I really want to do is sleep for a week. It takes a lot out of me.

And I made a lot of mistakes when I first started going to conferences, mostly because I felt unsure of myself and didn’t want to “miss” anything, so I thought it was worth a discussion. The fact of the matter is that now, conferences still wear me out, but I come home feeling good about the experience. And that’s kind of the point, no? Consider this your Cliff Notes on attending a conference as an introvert.

1) Room alone, or with someone you know and/or who operates similarly. Conferences are high-energy events, and you need a place where you can retreat and recharge. That means either have your own room or bunk with someone who’s not going to throw a party when you’re trying to sleep. In my case, I was extremely gratified to be able to come back at night, put on my pajamas, and watch the Olympics with the similarly-minded Susan Getgood. Some people can go-go-go for 24 hours, but most introverts can’t. It was great to have a roommate on the same wavelength, because that way I didn’t feel like I was being anti-social, but I also didn’t feel like I had to be “on” constantly.

2) Eat breakfast every day. Make sure you have some protein, too. I don’t care if you don’t eat breakfast at home. Conferences abound with carbolicious foods, and it’s easy to either eat constantly but fill up on empty calories or to “forget” to eat. Everyone does better on a good breakfast. It helps keep your energy up better than caffeine, too. (I bring gluten-free nut bars with me everywhere I go because it can be hard to get gluten-free food, but I find as a bonus it’s a great way to make sure I get a sizable protein boost regardless of what’s being served.)

3) Analyze the conference schedule and make some choices. I used to go to everything when I was at a conference, because I felt like I didn’t want to “miss” any opportunity while I was there. You know what? That can be kind of insane. If you’re at a conference to network (I was; most people are), sometimes the “thing” you need to be doing is chatting in the hall with someone. There are networking breaks built into the schedule, of course, but if there’s a session running where nothing is really calling to you, don’t be afraid to sit it out. Maybe that’s a good time for some one-on-one networking. Maybe it’s a good time to go back to your room and chill for twenty minutes. Maybe it’s a good time to go hang out in the bathroom with The Bloggess. Conferences are full of great experiences, and not all of them happen in rooms with hundreds of other people.

4) Get enough sleep. It can be tempting to accept every invitation and stay out late, but sleep is important, too. For me, if I don’t get enough sleep, I struggle the entire next day. Conferences are also a fabulous place to pick up a cold, and sleeping enough will increase your chances of making it home healthy. That said…

5) Bring (and take) plenty of vitamin C, zinc, and whatever else you like to help keep you from getting sick. I ended up sick this time, anyway. I blame the airlines. But I suspect I would’ve been a lot sicker if I hadn’t been taking my supplements and getting a decent amount of sleep. So it goes.

6) Sit with a different group of people at every meal and every session. It’s tempting to hang out with only the people you know, because that’s more comfortable. And I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with hanging out with folks you know and love. But by placing yourself with new faces while either eating or listening, you create a low-pressure way to interact with some new folks (hey, you can’t talk a lot while you eat or listen), and you’ll probably meet some fabulous people. If this seems too scary, start out just sitting with new folks during sessions and work up to meals.

7) Introduce yourself to people you admire. I’m reading conference recaps and seeing a lot of “I was too nervous to talk to X,” and “I wanted to meet Y, but I never worked up the courage.” What’s the worst that can happen? Don’t force yourself into a dozen social interactions that will stress you out, but if there’s one or two people you’d really love to talk to, all it takes is a, “Hi, I’m Mir. I’m a big fan of your work,” or whatever. Chances are the recipient of your admiration will be gracious. Maybe it will spark further conversation. Maybe it won’t. But you won’t know unless you try.

8 ) Always have business cards ready to give out, and hang on to the ones given to you. Don’t just thrust them at people willy-nilly, but if you’ve talked to someone, why not offer a card? The advantage of getting theirs, too, is that if you need to make a hasty exit or even if everything is perfect but you’d like to talk more at a later date, it’s easy enough to sit down later in the comfort of your office and shoot out a bunch of “It was really lovely to meet you and chat briefly, I hope we can stay in touch” emails. And then you get to conduct the following interactions over the Internet, the way God intended for introverts.

9) Get ahead on work before you go, and make peace with being behind when you leave. Do not plan to work while away. Let me say that again: DO NOT PLAN TO WORK WHILE AWAY. You’re already going to be full up, mentally, with the conference. Plan ahead and then play catch-up afterward, but if you plan to do actual work while away it will only add to your stress level. Resist!

10) Wear clothing you feel great in. Stack the deck to be your most confident self—that means that looking good will actually make you feel good. And you know I’m the queen of working in my pajamas, rocking jeans all week long, etc. But if I’m going to be Out Amongst The Professional People, I’m going to wear my cutest shoes, my most awesome business-appropriate outfit, etc. Because then I feel like I belong there, and it makes it easier to act like I belong there.

I’m not going to put this on a list, but consider it an overall cautionary note: Be yourself. Be your best self. That doesn’t mean you need false bravado, it just means the surer you are in your own skin—even as you acknowledge and honor that you maybe have limits when it comes to dealing with large groups of people—the better the connections you’ll make, and the better you’ll come away feeling about the experience. I promise.



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19 comments so far...

  • Mir, You did a great job at the conference and I would have never guessed you were shy. I love what you said about sitting at a different table. I made an effort to do that and met some incredible women by breaking out of the box. I’m not shy, but can always use networking tips like these. And I did a little recap of lessons learned from the conference too:

    http://momtrends.blogspot.com/2010/02/mommy-time-monday-mom-20-summit-lessons.html

    Nicole Feliciano  |  February 23rd, 2010 at 10:01 am

  • Well said!! I’m so tired of reading advice for introverts that end up telling you to be an extrovert! Be yourself, and be confident and comfortable in that. Good advice, all very good advice. Makes me proud to be an Introvert!

    Darlene  |  February 23rd, 2010 at 10:03 am

  • I like your distinction between shy and introvert, because it is something I forget myself. I am very much like you. If I were with a large group of people I would not seem particularly shy, but in reality I would crying inside from dealing with so many people. I think it is one of the reasons so many of us turn to writing. It is calmer. When I was at BlogHer, I was very uncomfortable handing out business cards, thinking it was silly to have them for something like a BLOG, but in retrospect it was a big mistake. I still have the cards I collected from others.

    Neil  |  February 23rd, 2010 at 10:03 am

  • Thanks very much, Nicole. And I’m not shy, I just find big crowds kind of draining. It’s nothing a little extra sleep won’t fix!

    Thanks for sharing your recap, too. There’s a list of ‘em here that I’m enjoying.

    Mir  |  February 23rd, 2010 at 10:04 am

  • Hi Mir

    I was great meeting you and I never would have thought you were an introvert.

    I liked tip #7, Introduce yourself to people you admire. I have met and talked to Dooce a few times at conferences but really had something I wanted to ask her. I was n while driving to the conference Saturday morning, “If I get to see and talk to Dooce I’m going to ask her X”

    Well I did get to talk to her over getting tea/coffee. I reintroduced myself and let her know where we had talked before. I told her about my 1 question I had for her and she totally was open with her response. She wished me luck and told me not to sue her if her advice doesn’t work for me. I’m still going to take it and glad I was able to be open ask approach her.

    I’m so glad I met you and hope to see you again soon.

    Imelda  |  February 23rd, 2010 at 10:20 am

  • Darlene: Yeah, as soon as you advise an introvert to be an extrovert, that knocks out the “be yourself” thing and everything starts to go sideways, I think.

    Neil: I think finding the right conference is key, too. BlogHer is huge, and maybe not a good starting place for those of us given to introversion.

    Imelda: Lovely meeting you, too! And I’m so pleased to hear you set yourself a goal and met it with great results. It’s a lot less scary than it seems in preparation, sometimes.

    Mir  |  February 23rd, 2010 at 10:24 am

  • Please delete the first comment.. My stupid work computer likes to have the cursor jump around and delete words. This comment is better.

    Hi Mir

    I was great meeting you and I never would have thought you were an introvert.

    I liked tip #7, Introduce yourself to people you admire. I have met and talked to Dooce a few times at conferences but really had something I wanted to ask her. I was thinking while driving to the conference Saturday morning, “If I get to see and talk to Dooce I’m going to ask her X”

    Well I did get to talk to her over getting tea/coffee. I reintroduced myself and let her know where we had talked before. I told her about my one question, as personal as it was,that I had for her and she totally was open with her response. She wished me luck and told me not to sue her if her advice doesn’t work for me. I’m still going to take it and glad I was able to be open and approach her.

    I’m so glad I met you and hope to see you again soon.

    Imelda  |  February 23rd, 2010 at 10:35 am

  • Good info. I’m kind of on the borderline between introvert and extrovert and I think you’re making some very good points. I went to my first blog conference this year - SITScation and had a wonderful time, but definitely had some introverted moments. I think now that I’ve gotten my feet wet and know a few people, I’ll be much more comfortable at future conferences. At least now I have an idea of what to expect and I think that its key. I would suggest going to one small in-town conference first, just to get your feet wet and then move onto bigger ones.

    Adrian  |  February 23rd, 2010 at 10:51 am

  • Wow! These are really great tips! And I think more conference attendees are introverted than we think. Some just fake it better than others. I really like the tips on wearing things that make you feel great, taking lots of Vitamin C and Zinc (so you can party all night long), and not being afraid to introduce yourself to people you admire. Thanks for the post!

    Emily H.  |  February 23rd, 2010 at 10:55 am

  • Mir, this is such a smart post. Many lessons it’s taken me years to learn all summed up right here. Love it.

    Julie @ The Mom Slant  |  February 23rd, 2010 at 12:10 pm

  • Very wise words, indeed. Sounds like you had a good trip. I plan to take this list with me to BlogHer. Although, it will be 4th time attending (for me) these things never get any easier. However, with each passing year, I can at least be confident in deciding on what NOT to do ;) Oh, and reading stuff like this helps big time!

    Liz@thisfullhouse  |  February 23rd, 2010 at 1:16 pm

  • “And then you get to conduct the following interactions over the Internet, the way God intended for introverts.” Ha! Love it.
    I’m sort of a weird mix of introvert/extrovert - I get energy from both, can find both draining - neither one more than another, and it’s all about maintaining the balance between the two! Either way though, I think your advice is great :)

    Heather  |  February 23rd, 2010 at 2:21 pm

  • These tips are SO on the money.

    Maria  |  February 24th, 2010 at 10:35 am

  • I love the “don’t work while away” admoninition. My worst conference ever was the one where they basically said, go because we already paid for it but check in because we’re short-staffed. It is very hard to enjoy a conference when you’re running back to your room at every break to work.

    Mich  |  February 24th, 2010 at 10:38 am

  • I attended your panel at Mom 2.0, and I would have never guessed that you are an introvert. But the way you describe it makes sense, and maybe in many ways I’m an introvert, even though I’m not shy. I’d been feeling guilty about skipping the FotoFest, but I knew that I needed some time to recharge, and I wanted to have plenty of energy for that last day. It’s affirming to hear that I wasn’t the only one.

    Thank you for this lovely essay. I look forward to our paths crossing again. I’ll even say hello next time.

    Ashley  |  February 25th, 2010 at 11:59 am

  • I get it, I get it. Introvert doesn’t equal shy. I’ve loved following along with the comments.

    Nicole Feliciano  |  February 25th, 2010 at 12:35 pm

  • These are great tips. As an introvert, I have been in your shoes many times. It is very important to take frequent breaks and have a good rest at the end of the day.

    Stickers  |  February 25th, 2010 at 1:02 pm

  • Not an introvert, but as a first timer to Mom 2.0, these rules are spot on. I recommend the introduction line of” “OMG, you are Mir and you’ve saved me like eight billion dollars!”

    I wonder if business cards on purell bottles or a baggie of hand sanitizer would be a neat way to go? You meet so many people and there are so many germs…

    elz  |  February 26th, 2010 at 10:19 am

  • Thank you for these tips. I love the point about getting business cards so you can interact “over the Internet the way God intended for introverts.”

    I might actually *go* to a conference after reading this. (And I will make myself find you and say, “Hi Mir. I’m a big fan of your work!”)

    Carolyn Erickson  |  March 5th, 2010 at 9:10 am

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