By Abi Saffrey with contributions from Julia Sandford-Cooke and Melanie Thompson
There are loads of blog posts about how to cope with attending a conference if you’re an introvert – just search for ‘introvert conference’ and you’ll find lots of bedtime reading.
We’ve had a look through some of those blog posts, relived our own introvert experiences and racked our own brains to put together this networking guide for introverts: surviving the SfEP conference – this year’s is fast approaching and preparation can be the key for those of us who find large work and social occasions a somewhat overwhelming prospect.
What’s an introvert?
It’s a characteristic/personality label that some people adopt.
- One description doesn’t fit all.
- The common contemporary definition is someone who gets energy from within rather than from other people.
- It does not equate to shyness, though some introverts are also shy.
Extroverts can find conferences overwhelming too – they’re intense events. Meeting new people and having to make conversation with strangers can be intimidating for anyone.
Who’s an introvert?
Somewhere between a third and a half of the general population. Probably more than that among editors and proofreaders, particularly those of us who have opted for the freelance lifestyle.
Why would an introvert want to go to the SfEP conference?
For the same reasons as extroverts – to learn new skills, to be inspired, to hear about the latest developments in publishing and, yes, to meet other editors and proofreaders. Where else can you laugh with someone who understands about having to remove double spaces after full stops after the revisions have come back from the author for the third time?
Things to do before the conference
- Think about what you want to get from the conference – and how you’re going to get it.
- See who else is attending and if there are one, two, three people in particular you’d like to talk to, or at least make an initial connection with. Perhaps you’ve read their blog or been helped by their advice on the SfEP forums. Maybe you’ve seen their pithy comments on Facebook editorial discussions and just think you’d get on with them.
- Pre-break the ice. Make contact with those people in advance – the groundwork can be done in a thought-out email rather than having to do a big face-to-face introduction.
- Research the speakers and their topics to give you conversation starters.
- Prepare some opening lines or questions [For example: Favourite part so far? Which bit are you most looking forward to? Which sessions are you going to today/tomorrow? What brings you here? Will you come again? What’s your favourite aspect of your work? Are you hoping to learn something in particular while you’re here?]
- Think about how you may answer those questions.
- Watch Susan Cain’s TED Talk about the power of introverts.
- Look at the schedule – where are you going to slot in the wind-down time? Are there sessions you may be able to miss if you need a break?
- Think about what kind of things will make the conference more stressful. Sharing a taxi with strangers? Not knowing anyone on your table at dinnertime? Do what preparation you can to lessen those stresses – make contacts, budget for a taxi on your own.
- Take things with you that help you feel comfortable – fluffy slippers, a new notebook, a photo of your dog, something that reminds you of home or another happy place.
- Stick to your normal morning routine, as much as you can. Bring your own teabags or coffee, or whatever you need for you to start the day in the normal way.
Things to do during the conference
The main thing is to make the conference work for you.
- Before walking into a social situation or a session, stand tall, roll your shoulders back and take a deep breath (or several) – do the power pose.
- Make time for breaks – in whatever form recharges you. Sit in the sun, read a book, go for a walk.
- Use your downtime to consolidate what you have learnt so far and plan for what’s coming next. Or just stare at a wall.
- It’s okay to go off on your own, or to stare at a wall.
- Be who you are – there is no ideal conference attendee mould that you have to fit into.
- It’s okay to be a quiet participant. Listen. Say only as much as you are comfortable saying. There is no minimum or maximum contribution.
- Recharge during a session (not necessarily dozing off…). Arrive just before a session is about to start, don’t sit too close to the front, Tweet.
- Ask someone you know to introduce you to someone else.
- Preserve your energy for when you need it most – some sessions are more important than others.
- If you’ve had enough, miss a session. You can always track down the speaker’s notes or slides later, or (gasp) ask another attendee about the main points covered.
- Use your skills to your advantage – listen, think, listen, ask perceptive questions, listen, ask why and listen carefully to the response.
- Don’t talk to everyone – you don’t have to and it’ll just wear you out.
- Don’t wear new shoes – sore feet can be really distracting.
- Don’t fixate on what you’ve said or done afterwards. You might be mortified that you got that person’s name wrong or forgot you’d met before, but they probably took it in their stride. They might even be worrying about having done the same thing.
Things to do after the conference
- Schedule some downtime in the following week.
- Plan some time to go through your notes and decide on some action points (not just for introverts).
- Make plans to go again next year – each time you’ll know more people, you’ll know the way things work, you’ll be a bit more comfortable.
- Get in touch with anyone you wanted to talk to at the conference but didn’t have time to.
Let us know if you have any other good tips for surviving ‘big events’.
Abi Saffrey, Julia Sandford-Cooke and Melanie Thompson are all introverts and will be at this year’s SfEP conference. Don’t be offended if they want to be alone.
Abi Saffrey is an advanced professional member of the SfEP. She specialises in copy-editing and proofreading economics and social policy content, and anything within the wider social sciences realm. Abi is a social introvert with two young children, and slight addictions to bootcamps and tea.
Blog posts I visited while writing this post
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP