Something I learnt when I became a Christian was that Christians like to go away into the middle of nowhere, spend most hours of the day with people who they may or may not know, sit in meetings together, sing songs together and share rooms together and all this fueled by coffee and cake with not a bit of vitamin C in sight. It seems a bit odd at first glance.
However from my experience conferences are fun and exciting. Especially when you get to hang out with your friends, hear brilliant teaching and share in fellowship with brothers and sisters all around the world.
But for the introvert, conferences can cause a slight flutter of nerves and sweaty palms. The idea of spending a week or more surrounded by people for most the day or sitting in large meetings can be overwhelming. And I often feel like that.
Part of my job is to go to a lot of conferences. So I had to find a way to cope with them so that I wouldn’t shrivel up inside and retreat to my “happy place” every time I am in a social situation where I have to talk “small talk”. So here is my personal mini-guide on how an introvert can survive a conference:
1. Pray – I get quite anxious before a conference and I try to think up 100 diseases I could catch so that I would have a good excuse not to go. So I have to cling on to the verse that I need to cast all my anxieties on to him because he cares for me (1 Peter 5:7). The Lord does care for me and he doesn’t want me to worry about this conference, so a good pray and then several thousand repeated prayers because I am dull of heart, tends to help.
2. Don’t Expect to Speak to Everyone – Having conversations with everyone will tire you out, so don’t place those expectations on yourself. You will have someone on stage saying that you need to make sure you are sociable and speak to everyone. But that may look different for you – you don’t have to be a social butterfly, going from one conversation to another with a flap of your wings. You may find you have a couple of close friends you stick to throughout the week and then a couple of others outside your friendship group that you invest in from time to time. And that is OK. Those relationships will be more meaningful. I have found that through this approach I have deepened a lot of my friendships at work.
3. Take Time Out – Rest. Don’t go to everything. If you need time out and it means missing a talk or going to bed early, than do it. And don’t feel guilty about it. At a conference I sometimes feel like I am back at school with my pleated skirt and oversized blazer and I have to go to every lesson for the fear of being told off. A conference is not school. We are now adults. We don’t have to go to everything. We can choose what we go to. And praise the Lord I don’t have to wear that blazer anymore!
4. Rejoice in our Extroverted Friends – Praise the Lord for our extroverted friends. You see them going from one person to another, creating connections, being influential having streams of conversations. Praise the Lord that they are different to you. Don’t be jealous. They are just different to you and you are making connections in different ways to them.
5. Rest Afterwards – Thankfully I get time off in lieu for being at a conference. After a conference I often feel exhausted and drained so if you can rest afterwards then do! Don’t feel guilty having time out and away from people after a conference.
6. Go out of your Comfort Place – Being an introvert is not excuse to hide away for all of the conference and not speak to anyone! It’s not an excuse to not make any connections with people or make an effort. We need to push out of our comfort zone – meet new people, make conversation even if its hard, create connections and be interested in people. Chances are you will meet people from all different walks of life, with various struggles, cultures and ideas. They are exciting to get to know.
So there you go, a small list of how I survive a conference as an introvert. Please do add any of your own advice in my comments as I am always interested to learn in this area.