Higher Education Innovation In Action

Making the Most of Conferences – Strategies for Introverts

Mindy Starcher, Vice President Nov 03, 2016
Attending conferences has many advantages – networking being high on that list – but what if the thought of getting to know a bunch of strangers while you eloquently represent your organization gives you the cold sweats? If this sounds like you, rest assured you’re not alone. Studies have shown that between one third and one half of Americans identify with being an introvert1.

If you’d like some help putting yourself out there, take a look at these six tips:  

    1. Smile.

    Smiling gives off an approachable vibe. A warm, inviting smile can put you and others at ease while creating the sense you’re having a good time. There’s something to be said about our physiological state influencing our behavior and emotions. If your smile feels phony or not quite right, practice in front of the mirror at home until you feel comfortable. This might seem a bit odd, but who cares? No one will ever know.

    2. Listen.

    Generally speaking, introverts prefer listening and extroverts love being listened to… a win, win for both sides! Sincerely ask questions about others and really listen to their response. For those of us who tend to be a bit more anxious in these types of situations, this can be a challenge, but one that you can achieve! Instead of worrying about what you’re going to say next, simply listen to the other person and watch how the conversation naturally flows.

    3. Do your research.

    Often conferences and networking events have online registration forums that provide an attendance list. Peruse the list ahead of time, then do a bit of research. Perhaps there are people attending you know you’d like to connect with, people with similar backgrounds, or people you already know that can introduce you to others. Reading another person’s social media content has become mainstream; it does not make you creepy – it makes you informed!

    4. Step outside of your comfort zone.

    Okay – this is a big one – approach others. If the statistics are true and one in every two to three people is an introvert, several other people at the same event you’re attending feel just as nervous as you! What if you could help them and help yourself at the same time? Just as you might wish someone would spark up a conversation with you and come to your rescue, they’re hoping for the same thing.

    Don’t know what to say? Try Dale Carnegie’s Conversation Stack. It can be really helpful in terms of getting to know someone AND retaining what you’ve learned about them. Remember, this should feel like a casual chat, not an interview of sorts.

    [Related post: A Registrar’s Guide to Making the Most of Higher Ed Conferences]

    5. Prepare for the worst- and best-case scenarios.

    Let’s paint a picture… worst case: you trip over your own feet and fall on your face in front of a room of full of strangers. Then to make matters worse, everyone laughs at you and no one even asks if you’re okay… best case: you walk into the room and everyone can’t wait to talk to you, the conversation is flowing, and you feel like Tony Robbins.

    Most likely, neither of those scenarios will happen. This leaves your expectations somewhere in the middle… and if they’re are closer to reality, you can celebrate your small victories later and avoid beating yourself up.

    6. Put your smartphone down.

    This one is real simple. Just put it down… It’s ironic because we pick up our phones at the first twinge of discomfort... but nothing says, “Don’t talk to me” or “I’m busy,” like staring at your phone. When you feel the urge, stop, take a breath, and then smile. Find that person who looks like they could use a friend and introduce yourself.

While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with preferring lower levels of stimulation, introverts must be able to accept social challenges with enthusiasm. Step outside of your comfort zone from time to time – you’ll be surprised with what you can do! Then go home and recharge with a good book and a cup of tea or dinner with a close friend.

1 Cain, Susan. (2013). Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. New York, NY: Crown Publishers.