Conferences are, by design, highly stimulating situations that may deplete one’s energy rapidly especially if they identify as an introvert. Many of my students and professional acquaintances think of me as an extrovert. However, being an introvert, such socialization is possible for me only with a lot of down time for recharging, through reading, writing and other solitary activities.
Attending an academic conference on my own was a steep learning curve to say the least. I got to learn a lot about myself, how I navigate the world, how I perceive things and how others may perceive me.
The following worked for me:
One thing that always helps a person stay at the helm of affairs is to be proactive. Introverts are usually good planners. Utilize that quality for your potential benefit. Having been prepared keeps the anxiety of being at a new place in check. Look into the conference schedule. If a topic specifically piques your interest, keep relevant questions in mind to ask during Q&A session.
Find “like-vibe” people
Connecting with many attendees can be an uphill task. It is best to stay true to who you are as a person. Rather than socializing with everyone, pick a few attendees that match your vibe. Ask questions about things that actually interest you.
Excuse yourself from icebreakers:
The rest of the conference would allow enough engagement. Do not force yourself to sit through icebreakers. They may get very awkward, very fast.
Take a time-out:
Taking regular breaks can be useful to ease your nerves. Know that it is just a time out. Do not consider it an escape. Look for a peaceful and confined space to recharge your batteries. I, for that matter, found solace in a secluded prayer area. You might want to skip conference lunch and sneak-out to grab a bite elsewhere.
Don’t forget ear plugs & headphones
Then there are certain things which introverts know from their daily experiences. Ear plugs can be sanity-savers when you cannot escape the situation and need to stay put; but can no longer stand further auditory input. A more acceptable alternative would be to bring along your headphones.
Skip a session:
Back to back sessions for many consecutive days gets exhausting anyway. More so, if your energy drains quickly in large congregations and crowded places. Have a look at the conference schedule. If the title of any session suggests that you are either already aware of the topic, or not much interested, its alright to give it a pass.
Get adopted by an extrovert:
As an introvert, you might be well-acquainted with situations where a good-hearted extrovert ends up taking you under their wings. They string you along everywhere. Even then, it is better to communicate your boundaries.
A lecturer and lifestyle consultant by the day; an avid reader and writer by the night, I am a student of life.