An Introvert’s Guide to Thriving at Events and Conferences

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Author with a colleague

By Jessica Swann, TechChange Director of Partnerships, Education

Not everyone thrives on being in a crowded room full of people, frantically networking from one handshake to another. Some of us are introverted, more comfortable in small groups or even alone. That said, even introverted folks want to connect, building relationships and knowledge within their professional spheres. Sometimes that means putting aside our discomfort and attending large conferences or events. And I’m not just saying that–this week I’m traveling from my home in Mexico City to Washington D.C. to join the in-person component of the Global Digital Development Forum. 

So I thought I’d take the opportunity to share with you my tips for attending events as a self-declared introvert. 

Plan Your Attack 

First things first, you’ll want to review the agenda ahead of time and select the sessions you definitely want to attend. This helps remove any anxiety you may have around what the day will look like– and make the most of the event. Of course, you can always change your mind day-of, but it’s good to have a plan to fall back on. I also like to try and book some meetings with folks I know will be there in around those sessions. Having set meetings that you can prepare for and walk into confidently is a great way to balance the more anxiety-inducing free flowing moments of networking. 

Quality Over Quantity

Networking is not a numbers game where the more people you meet, the better you will do. In my professional life, I’ve found that it’s very much a question of quality over quantity. One single in-depth conversation that leads to a meaningful connection or follow-up opportunity means more than trying to meet and greet a huge number of people. So focus on the genuine conversations, and give them time to blossom into something truly exciting. Also, take a few notes on your phone after promising conversations, so you know what to follow up with via email after the conference!

Don’t Forget Your Tools

Sometimes it’s helpful to keep your hands busy when you’re feeling nervous. During a session, take notes. This will serve two functions–making you look busy and making sure that you remember the key takeaways from the session. If mealtimes with strangers cause you stress, then use those windows to catch up on your emails. Grab a to-go lunch and your computer, then take the time to recharge your battery before diving into the next learning/ networking session.If you have any new resources you want to share, bring a stack, as these can be great conversation starters. I’ll be decked out with our new cape sheet and information about our new offers: ImpactSource and ImpactCoach.

Jumpstart the Conversation 

If you are feeling brave, join a lunch table of folks you don’t know and turn to the person next to you. I like to have a few pre-prepared questions to jumpstart the conversation beyond the usual, boring ‘What do you do?’? Here are some of my favorites to allow you to get to the next level beyond exchanging pleasantries and job titles:

What’s the best session you’ve seen so far?

What are you working on right now that you’re most excited about?

How do you think this conference will look different in five years?

That last one’s just for fun, since the Global Digital Development Forum is all about technology in international development, and I love to hear people’s predictions for frontier tech and how everything will change with the advent of AI, the Internet of Things, and other fast-moving areas. 

Hybrid is Your Best Friend

This is probably the best piece of advice I have. Take advantage of the hybrid options! This partly-in person, partly-online format will allow you to decide which parts of the conference you actually want to be physically there for, and which would be more comfortable in front of your computer at home– or in your hotel room, in my case. For example, maybe you want to come to the in-person portion for the plenary and morning sessions, and do the afternoon workshops virtually. GDDF is fully hybrid, with virtual sessions running for 20+ hours across all time zones, and I like knowing that I can pop back to my room (or even a quiet corner of the conference venue!) to watch a session if I need a break.

Lean on Your Team

Don’t forget about your allies. It’s easier to talk with folks we know and trust, and it can refresh your spirits if you’re feeling worn out from meeting new people. For me, that’s my TechChange colleagues, who I work with regularly to envision courses and workshops on social impact topics that matter. Since TechChange is hosting GDDF- both in person and on our state of the art convening platform– there will be plenty of team members for me to reconnect with. That’ll be one of the best parts of the event for me, since I work remotely from another country from my coworkers most of the time.

And, Last But Not Least, Remember to Recover 

One of the main differences between introverts and extroverts is that time around large groups of people tends to drain our energy, whereas extroverts get jazzed from it. So it’s important to plan time for self-care after an event (or even during, if it’s multiple days), whether that’s a quiet meal by yourself (hooray for room service!), or listening to a podcast on the way home. The day after a conference, make sure that your calendar is pretty open, so you’re not having to go right from a busy event to a day chock-full of meetings. That way, you can also follow up in a super timely manner with your new connections, staying top of mind and keeping the conversation going. After all, we’re here to connect! 

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