Are you an introvert?
Do you attend conferences? Or does the thought of being around so many people for so long make you break into a sweat?
I get it.
I’m an introvert, although you’d probably never guess it from seeing me interact with other people. The truth is that over the years of being a missionary kid, going to missions conferences, visiting new churches, and, well, peopling in general, I’ve learned a few things that help me fully engage people and enjoy myself when I’m around lots of people. (And yes, peopling is a word. Here’s proof.)
A few weeks ago I returned from the Speak Up with Confidence conference, and it was one of my favorite conference experiences so far, thanks in part to giving myself permission to be an introvert, but also because of the fantastic conference itself. The speakers were accessible to attendees, the venue staff was accommodating (read on for shocking details), and the women attending were SO fun to be around! I just love striking up conversations with kindred spirits, and these types of convos abounded at Speak Up. If you get the chance, definitely go.
And if you want to avoid being miserable, I’ve got you covered. From my quiet-loving heart to yours, I give you my top 12 tips to conferencing like a pro without breaking into hives.
1. Research, Connect, and Plan
Part of introverts’ nervousness about conferences is that the unknown is scary–we don’t know who’s going to be there, what the venue will be like, where we should show up, and what to expect.
Set your mind to ease by familiarizing yourself with as much as you can beforehand. Here are a few things I’ve done that have helped me feel more comfortable:
- follow the conference hashtag on social media and interact with posts (I didn’t find a whole lot of #speakupconf posts, but when I attended #allume, I made fast friends with other Twitter-ers)
- familiarize yourself with speakers and jump on their periscopes or FB live events (this is how I first connected with Cindy Bultema several months ago, from the comfort of my home; when we met in person it was like meeting a friend)
- spend time on the conference’s website, look at the agenda, see what sessions are offered and when you can take breaks; check out the hotel’s website too; basically, find out all you can so when you arrive you can easily grasp your bearings
If you make friends beforehand, make plans to sit together for the first meal or session. That way, you can experience a warm welcome from people you already sorta know, which will set the tone for the rest of that first evening.
2. Invite God to Move
As you prepare for the conference, pray over anything and everything. Surrender yourself and your agenda to God, and simply tell Him, Here I am. Invite the Holy Spirit to direct your steps, your session selection, your conversations with strangers, and every last random detail.
If the conference has a prayer corner, use it. Retreat there at least once during the conference. The most memorable moments of every conference I’ve attended have come shortly after I’ve paused in the middle of the event and asked God to move in and through me. Allume had a secluded room where I slipped away, fell to my knees, and cried before God after a disheartening publisher meeting. I surrendered my hopes and dreams to God, and asked Him to go before me, and in the next hour I connected with the woman who would become the acquisitions editor for my next book. …Only God!
The Speak Up conference had a prayer team that asked for our prayer requests before the conference, praying for us by name before we even left our homes. During the conference, the prayer corner was staffed with women available to pray with us, and one morning I quietly slipped into a chair and enjoyed sweet fellowship with a stranger-turned-sister as we asked God to move in my life. His presence was like a warm embrace that day as I walked into meetings, speaking critiques, and casual conversations.
When we surrender to God and invite Him to move, He coordinates our steps toward “coincidences” that are clearly divine appointments. And those are often the best part of any conference or event.
3. Plan for Quiet Time
The basic definition of an introvert is a person whose energy is drained by people and replenished by quiet. In order to people well, you need to protect your energy reserves. Check the conference schedule and plan for moments away from the crowds, when you can refuel yourself with time spent in the Word of God, in private prayer, and even journaling.
At Speak Up this past year, I had to take breaks every 6 hours to pump, and those 20-minutes of solitude were just the break I needed to recharge. (Sometimes my friend Katie Reid joined me–in separate rooms, mind you–but that was fine because it gave us a chance to debrief. Plus, solidarity for nursing sisters for the win!)