Thinking back on the several large and small conferences I’ve attended and what I’ve learned, I wanted share with you some tips for how I’ve taken charge of myself, not given into my fears, and have made the most of these experiences.
Conferences can be completely overwhelming when you’ve never attended one (or even if you have!) when you have social anxiety. All the parties. All the people you don’t know. All the rushing around, and lack of sleep, and potential for overindulgence. Its not always helpful to our mental health, especially when you have a mental illness like me.
So, here are my tips for those with social anxiety…to maximize conference confidence, and minimize stress:
- Join Pre-Conference Facebook Groups. This has been huge for me for several events not only to learn about what’s happening at and surrounding the conference, but also to make connections with others who are attending, before meeting them in person. This is HUGE when you have social anxiety, to feel more comfortable heading to a large event where you really know no-one in real life.
- Pre-Schedule a Few Meet-ups. Have you built a relationship with fellow blogger(s) online? As we all know, social media can be amazing at building friendships. Many of these “online” friendships have become very important to me over the years, and getting a chance to connect in person is so exciting. Schedule a time to meet up with a few you feel you know. This could be a quick coffee between sessions, or a plan to sit next to each other at the keynote lunch, or connecting for dinner on a particular day. I’m not talking about just “running into” each other, but an actual “appointment” as it were. I know my social anxiety has gotten the best of me a time or two and I’ve missed parties/sessions/etc. because of it. But with more recent conferences, where I’ve followed my own advice, I had a much better experience.
- Pre-Schedule Events. Not all conferences have them, but many have invite-only or outside events. Participating in the Facebook groups or following the event hashtag on social media are both excellent ways to find out about these events and secure invitations. Having confirmed things to do always helps when fighting social anxiety. TIP: Make sure that your email address is very readily available on your blog or within your social media profiles. If its hard for a company to contact you, they’ll probably bump you from their list. (Contact forms don’t count!)
- Don’t Get Drunk. There is a lot of alcohol flowing at conference events like these, and yes, drinking can take the edge off of social anxiety. And of course you want to have a lot of fun being away from the responsibilities at home, but always remember you are there on business. I’ve run into more than a few people who had one too many, and most people were trying to get away from them. If you want to make a positive impression with potential clients or business partners, its best to be yourself and enjoy the proffered libations in moderation.
- Only Pick Conference Sessions that Speak to You. You don’t have to go to everything at a conference. There is truly SO MUCH to do. And feeling like you have to do it all is just plain stressful. So my advice is to pick a few that truly speak to you, and if you find you have more time on your hands check out one or two more. Or spend that extra time in the convention hall checking out the great brand sponsors. After the fact, if you feel like you missed something, most conferences offer online recaps or videos of sessions for attendees.
- Recognize Someone? Say HELLO! Seriously, this is REALLY scary when you have social anxiety. But in this small world of blogging, I’m sure you know many bloggers by sight who you haven’t actually met or even spoken to online. Push yourself to say hello, even if its a “big” blogger who you think wouldn’t want to talk to you. You’d be surprised. They’re people too, and even if they seem comfortable in their own skin, they might have social anxiety too! Also if you just met someone at a previous session and see them again, say hello!
- Its OK to Take a Break. Period. If your mental health needs it, please do it. Even if you miss a session you were hoping to attend, like I said you can probably view it later online. If you don’t take small breaks when you need them, you may become overwhelmed and miss even more of the conference.
- Pre-Schedule to Ride to the Airport with a New Friend. After all of the excitement of a conference you’ll still want to feel connected on the trip home. Via the Facebook groups (or even on-site) try to see if anyone is on your flight back. Make a plan to hang out at the airport preflight or even sit together on the way home. Can’t find a friend on your exact flight? Ask if someone is leaving for the airport at the same time and share a cab. Making another connection is a great way to end your conference experience.
What do you think? If you have social anxiety, do you think you could follow these tips? Do you have others you have learned with your own business travels?