If large groups of people, lots of activity, sound, noise, and light feel overwhelming, you may be an introvert. Let’s just say that SHRM National is an extrovert’s delight.
Yet, the conference is full of interesting people, opportunity, valuable information, and things that promise to make your life easier, people happier, and decisions easier. There is so much to learn and explore.
My favorite trick for managing the overwhelm is to hide in plain sight behind my camera. It gives me a focus, literally. And I get to just edit anything I don’t want to see out of my field of vision. If you see me with my cameras, stop and say hi. I’d love to take your picture.
Here are a few other ways I use to manage the energy and overwhelm at conferences.
- Find a friend. Everything is easier when you are having an interesting conversation and can navigate the throngs with someone else. If you don’t know anyone, look for someone who looks as frightened and confused as you feel. Then say hi, and just ask if they are an introvert. If they look at you like you’re nuts, skulk away and try again when you’ve recovered. But if they say yes, you have found your friend.
- Map out your day. Knowing in advance what sessions you want to attend and where you want to be gives you a mission and a clear path. That way you can reduce decision overload while you are in the middle of a crowd.
- Don’t go to the expo during breaks. Go and explore during a session time when it’s quieter and you can have one on one conversations.
- If you go to the expo when the place is packed, only stop at vendors who offer chocolate, and be sure to hoard some for later. If you don’t like chocolate, make a different completely arbitrary and silly rule to guide you. But still take the chocolate and give it to me.
- Go outside. When you need a break, take a real one. Get all the way out of the conference for a little bit. If you can’t find your way out, ask someone who smells like cigarette smoke. They always know the fastest route. Offer them chocolate.
- Eat and stay hydrated. Chocolate is not enough. You need protein. If you are feeling shaky, either emotionally or physically, find some fresh, healthy food.
- Be an enthusiasm vampire. Draft on the extroverts’ energy. When I start to run out of juice at a big conference, I go searching for people giving off a lot of great energy and just absorb it. Sales people are the best source of a quick hit of enthusiasm and excitement. But you can also get it from the speaker and the crowd during a great session or from the group at a party. This trick takes a little practice because it is completely counter-intuitive to an introvert’s desire to shut down and hide. Instead, get out of your head and into the room. One trick I use is to name 7 things I see. I try to do this in my head so that people don’t hear me saying: phone, table, really ugly carpet, awful chairs . . . I get judgy pretty fast especially when I’m uncomfortable. The idea is to push past the fear and discomfort, so a little judgment along the way is just fine. Then notice the smiles, the excitement, the intensity and just gather some of it right out of the air around you by breathing it in. Take a few long draws and breathe out your tired and overwhelm. It’s weird. I know. But it works.
- Sit on the floor. When I can’t get out or am too tired to do one of the above, I just find a space along the wall and sit down on the floor. Suddenly I am out of sight and below the fray. It works in conference sessions, common spaces, and anywhere you can find a bit of wall and floor together. Not recommended for escalators, bathrooms, restaurants, and bars for obvious reasons.
- When you are done, quit. Every introvert knows the point of done — when all the decision making, talking, listening, and taking things in is used up. There will be temptations to drink more. Your friends will want you to go to one more party. You don’t have to. It is okay to stop, retreat, and go back to your room and read a book, take a bath, or just collapse.