Introvert’s Guide to Professional Conferences

Going to conferences, conventions and workshops can jump-start or revive your career.  You can learn about new skills or equipment needed for your work. You can find out the trends affecting your industry. In addition, these events are a great place to meet people and network.

Every industry has state, regional, national or international conferences to support professional development and share information. Many personal interest groups and hobby enthusiast also have conventions. Examples of professional conferences include the National Gift Basket Convention, Comic-Con, SXSW and the National Career Development Conference.

At a conference, you can meet respected thought-leaders in your field, people from other regions working in positions like yours, students, educators and researchers, and potential employers.

However, between constantly taking in information at workshops and the myriad of social situations, conferences can be overwhelming for anyone. This is especially true for introverts who need time away from others to collect their thoughts and recharge their batteries.

The idea of being in a highly social environment for several hours or several days might make an introvert pass on the chance to go to a conference. But skipping these workshops and conferences will hurt your career.

I’m an introvert who has learned to love conferences. Here are four tips for getting the most out of a professional conference:

Plan ahead. Often conference organizers post a schedule or list of workshops and speakers ahead of time. Before you go to the conference choose the events you most want to attend. Creating your personal agenda keeps you from making too many snap decisions, increasing the likelihood you will enjoy the events you picked.

Set personal goals. Think about what you want to get out of the conference and set small goals to make it happen. Maybe you want to meet the keynote speaker. Perhaps you want to go to as many events as possible about a specific topic. Maybe you want to make connections with people working at Company X. Or maybe your goal is to practice your networking skills.

Know your style. Some people go to conferences and never make it to single workshop. They spend all of their time meeting new people and strengthening connections by talking to people at meals, in the exhibition areas, or just chatting in the hallways. Other people go to the conferences for the workshops, gather information from vendors and authors, and might leave without having met a single new person. There is no right or wrong way to “work” a conference. Do what’s right for you.

Keep it professional. Wild, drunken parties are no longer the norm at conferences. However, there are cocktail receptions and it’s common for a group of colleagues to get together for drinks after conference hours. Treat these social situations like you would any other professional event. If you drink too much or do something inappropriate, your behavior might not only affect your reputation, but your company’s. In other words, what happens at the conference, does NOT stay at the conference.

Here are a few more tips for making the most of a professional conference:

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