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An Introvert’s Guide to Successfully Navigating Conferences

Conferences may feel daunting and overwhelming, but they can also be highly productive and enjoyable with a little planning and self-reflection.

Chris Eng

January 31, 2024

4 Min Read
Blur, defocused background of public exhibition hall. Business tradeshow, job fair, or stock market.
Kawee Wateesatogkij via Alamy Stock

Regardless of one’s industry, this time of year is constantly filled with events. Highly anticipated trade shows and other major industry events are hosted by some of the largest organizations and vendors, for example AWS re:Invent, and RSAC. As we ease back into attending these events in-person, many of us are readjusting to crowded environments, highly stimulating spaces, and extended periods of social interaction.

This sense of re-alignment is particularly true for anyone who identifies as an introvert. While introverts may enjoy being around people and socializing, the most significant difference is that after spending time in a chaotic or stimulating environment, an extrovert will feel energized. In contrast, introverts will feel depleted and must step away to recharge their social battery.

Introverts tend to feel more comfortable in quiet settings and often get overwhelmed and burned out while being around people much faster than someone who classifies as an extrovert. Recent YouGov data revealed that many Americans believe that extroverts feel more confident than introverts when it comes to public speaking (70%), meeting a new group of people (69%), and interacting with someone new one-on-one (50%). These aspects are unavoidable when attending a conference, but they don’t have to be limitations. Conferences can provide valuable networking opportunities and offer a space to continue growing in your career.

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While most people can tell you if they self-identify as introverted or extroverted, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment offers an easy-to-use tool for understanding and evaluating your personality type. Despite its known limitations, it provides a framework to help individuals understand how they work, learn, and communicate.

Conferences may feel daunting and overwhelming, but they can also be highly productive and enjoyable with a little planning and self-reflection. Here are three tips for introverts to navigate conferences successfully:

Recharging without withdrawing is the key to staying engaged while balancing your personal needs. Prioritizing yourself can be hard when you are concerned about missing a networking event or speaking session, but it’s essential to put your mental health first and step away when needed. This can be done in many ways, including finding a quiet space and spending half an hour alone. Going on a walk by yourself – even just around the venue itself – will give you a break and allow you to reset. Starting your day by planning out which sessions you want to attend and blocking off dedicated time for yourself is another great way to maintain balance between sanity and FOMO.

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Following a day full of social interaction and physical activity, a loud dinner with 10+ people will be far from ideal for introverts. Instead, prioritize quality time with small groups – I prefer two to six people. While most introverts hate small talk, they often thrive in smaller conversations where go beyond the superficial. Getting an intimate group of people together will allow for meaningful conversations and allow you to enjoy yourself without feeling burned out. Larger networking events are sometimes unavoidable, but if halfway through the event you feel overstimulated and are no longer enjoying yourself, leave! You should never feel guilty about excusing yourself if it means recharging your social battery.

Remember, this is YOUR conference experience; no one else’s. Not everyone will have the same goals as you when attending a conference. Some people may be there to speak on a panel, attend a few sessions, and then leave, whereas others want to soak up everything there is to offer, from after-hours events and networking opportunities to jam-packed schedules.

Figuring out your end goal is extremely important to successfully navigating the conference. If you are there because you want to explore new career prospects or learn which roles are out there, then you need to go into the conference with that mindset.

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Use your strengths to your advantage. If you enjoy the networking aspect of conferences, head to LinkedIn and research who is attending the event. Often, people will post ahead of time and share the days they will be there and include their schedule for the week. This can be a great way to reach out naturally and extend an invitation to meet for coffee or even connect briefly between sessions. Exploring career prospects and meeting with specific people allows you to have a plan and set expectations ahead of time.

Lean on your extroverted friends. Forming connections with someone whose strengths are your weaknesses can make for a perfect pairing. If an outgoing co-worker is also attending the conference, ask if you can attend some panels or events with them.

Extroverts have skills and abilities that may be different from yours, and you should use this to your advantage. If you put yourself in a group setting with a lot of extroverts, it takes the pressure off you to keep the conversation flowing, and you can take a step back from leading the discussion. Introversion and extraversion are two complementary ways of operating in the world. By bringing the two together, it allows both parties to benefit from each other.

Conferences take planning, not only from speakers and organizers but also from attendees. If you lean on the introverted side of the personality spectrum, proper planning and setting your own expectations will give you the most productive and enjoyable experience possible.

About the Author(s)

Chris Eng

Chief Research Officer, Veracode

Chris Eng is Chief Research Officer at Veracode. A founding member of the Veracode team, he is responsible for all research initiatives including applied research and product security, as well as advising on product strategy and M&A. Chris is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and serves on the review board for Black Hat USA. He is also a charter member of MITRE's CWE/CAPEC Board. Bloomberg, Fox Business, CBS, and other prominent media outlets have featured Chris in their coverage. Previously, Chris was technical director at Symantec (formerly @stake) and an engineer at the National Security Agency. Chris holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the University of California.

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