The introvert's guide to attending conferences

Plan ahead and take time for yourself

While conferences can be exciting opportunities to network with peers and learn about interesting topics, they can also be daunting for those with social anxiety. Writing for Inside Higher Ed, Katie Shives shares five tips for making the most of conferences, even if you may find them stressful.

The benefits of conferences are clear, Shives writes. Often they are paid-for trips that provide valuable professional development opportunities. But they can also be stressful for attendees, requiring them to meet many new people and navigate an unknown city.

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Shives shares five tips for getting the benefits of a conference without being overwhelmed.

Make a plan: Attendees should prepare by printing an agenda and, if needed, a map of the conference, Shives says. With those in hand, it is easier to focus on the conference content. Shives also suggests writing a few sentences about every talk you attend to refer to later when conversing with other attendees.

Set limits: You don't have to attend everything. Stick to what is most relevant or interesting to make things less hectic, says Shives.

Build in breaks: By only attending what is most relevant or interesting, attendees can build in time for breaks—something Shives writes is particularly important for people with anxiety. Even very short breaks can be helpful. "I've taken five minutes after a two-hour poster session to just stand in a locked bathroom stall and breathe until I feel ready to interact with people again," she shares.

Break the ice: For people with anxiety, talking with other attendees and presenters can be one of the most difficult things about attending a conference. Shives encourages these people it is best to start simple. "Don't be afraid to ask the person next to you what they thought of the last talk, what they work on, or if there are any upcoming talks that they are looking forward to," Shives writes. Group meals and coffee breaks are also a low-stress way to meet other people, Shives notes.

Make the dress code work for you: Not dressing appropriately for a conference can be anxiety-provoking, Shives says. While most academic conferences are casual, ask people who have attended in years past what to wear in order to avoid under- or over-dressing. However, Shrives points out that it is better to err on the side of dressing more formally (Shives, Inside Higher Ed, 3/9).

The takeaway: While attending conferences can provoke anxiety, attendees can control the stress by planning ahead and reserving time to decompress.

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