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I have a secret.
Although my work as a consultant, facilitator, and speaker often requires me to interact with large groups of people beyond the traditional nine-to-five, and often for several days (if not weeks) in a row, I am an introvert. You know that imaginary social battery suspended over my head? Well, that meter slowly ticks down the more group interaction I’m involved in.
And the unfortunate thing is, the time it takes to drain my social battery (which can happen very quickly) is not directly proportionate to the time it takes me to recharge (which can often require several days or more). I’m like an old iPhone that’s four or five models out of date and Apple’s slowing my performance and charge times so I’ll upgrade to the latest model.
It’s not that I dislike people. After all, they are what drives my work. But I do find extended periods of interaction — regardless of how intense — to be incredibly draining. And my social battery only gets recharged with some alone time. Although there’s a couple of people, like my husband and my sister, who can help recharge my social battery, those people are far and few in between.
For me, the following scenarios tend to drain my social battery, ramp up my anxiety, and sometimes even shut me down completely:
So, in honor of the upcoming ASAE Annual Meeting in Atlanta, but equally relevant to your own organization’s meeting and events, here’s a list of 25 ideas you might consider implementing to help get you into the right headspace. Ultimately, these ideas are designed to help you get ahead of those overwhelming feelings, take care of yourself, and still enjoy the event. Adopt a few of those ideas that seem most in your wheelhouse and skip those that aren’t. After all, no sense in getting overwhelmed by the ideas that are designed to help you.
1. Tell your friends how you’re feeling. Have a core group of friends onsite? Share with them how you’re feeling and how they can best support you. Don’t assume they just know, particularly if this is out of character for you. Some of us have felt more intense feelings post-pandemic. Ultimately, being around a low-pressure group of people you know might help you unmask.
2. Wear a social battery pin. A great friend and colleague who’s gotten to know me well recently gifted me a social battery pin. You can easily find these on Amazon and Etsy. Simply attach it to your clothing or name badge and be sure to update it throughout the day to reflect your mood. If people ask, educate them on why you’re wearing it and how best to engage with you.
3. Prepare an introduction. You know you’re going to be meeting a lot of different people, whether in the expo hall, in session rooms, or at receptions. So come prepared with a short introduction about who you are and what you do. It’s one less thing to stress out about as another new person approaches you. I’ll also be sporting this new device. It helps to more easily exchange contact information, and it doubles as a great conversation starter.
4. Identify three conversation starters. Speaking of which, the conversation rarely stops with introductions. So make a list of three go-to things you can easily talk about when meeting someone new. Maybe it’s a favorite TV show, movie, book, podcast, work project, etc.
5. Ask more open-ended questions. The single easiest way to catch your breath when making small talk is to ask an open-ended question. For example: Tell me about the sessions you went to today. Which receptions are you planning to attend this evening?
6. Find an aisle seat in session rooms. These seats mean you’ll only have to sit next to one other person (rather than one on each side of you). And if, for whatever reason, you need to step out to regroup, you’ll have an easy exit strategy. By the way, did you know it’s not illegal to leave a session early or skip a session altogether?
7. Enter the expo hall with a game plan. The expo hall is amazing, with lots of great vendors, activities, food, and giveaways. But it can be a lot. Think about what products/solutions you’re really in need of finding. Review the exhibitor list in advance and limit your interactions to just those booths. I’ll even spread them out over the open days of the expo to make it less overwhelming on any one day.
8. Narrow down the list of receptions and parties. Pick only those receptions or parties that have a specific purpose for you and ignore the rest. If possible, find a buddy to join you so you enter the event more at ease. And don’t be afraid to dip out once your needs have been met.
9. Alcohol in moderation. I don’t know about you, but I don’t drink at home nearly as much as I do at an event like this one. And I’m certain that doesn’t help me to feel any better. Alcohol is a depressant, after all. So go into each reception or party with a game plan about what you want to drink. And don’t be afraid to ask for water or a mocktail.
10. Stay hydrated. Speaking of which, I always feel worse when I’m dehydrated. Whether that’s from indulging a little too much the night before or walking around in the sticky heat, I often find that it’s difficult to find and consume enough water. So bring a refillable water bottle, take advantage of any complimentary bottled water in your hotel room, and stock up at the hotel gift shop or a local CVS/Walgreens.
11. Eat something of substance every day. ASAE stands for “always standing, always eating,” right? While it can feel like you’re eating more than you might normally at home, the truth is that so many of these “meals” are merely a string of appetizers that don’t quite amount to a substantive and nutritious meal. So you might just need to pick a night mid-way through the event to peel off from the scheduled activities and grab a hardy sit-down dinner with friends. Alternatively, consider staying in and ordering room service.
12. Plan the next day’s down time. Each evening, take a look at the schedule and identify when you’re going to recharge the next day. Whether it’s a slower start to the day, a break midway through the day, or calling it an early evening, proactively identify when you’re going to rest and recharge your social battery.
13. Get enough sleep. While rest and relaxation are part of the equation, so is sleep. And your ideal number of sleep hours will be different from mine. Based upon when you might want to wake up, work backwards to a recommended sleep time, and backwards even further to account for wind down time. If you can’t seem to accumulate enough hours overnight, prioritize a nap during your day.
14. Stick to your routine. While getting ready each morning at home, I usually listen to a hometown radio program via the iHeartRadio app. So I do this while I’m on the road, as well. It brings me the comfort of home. So whatever you do at home — listen to a podcast, complete your Duo Lingo lesson, watch a certain TV show — try to maintain that habit throughout the event, as well.
15. Find time to connect with family. I’m fortunate that my husband’s in the industry and travels with me to ASAE. But he’s an extreme extrovert. His social battery recharges the more he’s around people. So if he needs to be out and about, and I need some downtime in the room, I might call or text my sister. For you, that might mean FaceTiming your spouse or children.
16. Surround yourself with extroverts. Given the right conditions, this may be a game changer for you. Often, these are the folks who have a lot to say and can carry the conversation regardless of how much you engage. So long as not every question is directed at you, and you can dip in and out throughout the conversation as necessary, it can relieve some of the pressure inherent in group interactions.
17. Explore the local area for solo or small group activities. Cool statue? Neat water feature? Little park? I’m in! I like to find unique points of interest near the convention center and visit them during breaks or at lunch. And if you have a few extra minutes, consider sitting down, grounding yourself, and taking in a few deep breaths.
18. Take the time to move your body. Whether it’s a simple walk outdoors, yoga or meditation in a nearby park, a run on the treadmill, lifting weights in the hotel gym, or bodyweight exercises in your sleeping room, find an activity that will help you reconnect with your mind and body. Need to meet up with a client or colleague? Consider walking and talking.
19. Find the relaxation room. ASAE — and other events — will often offer attendees a relaxation room. Think soft music, dim lights, no screens, opportunities to color or fidget, and the list goes on. This can be a great grounding exercise if you find yourself overwhelmed while in the convention center.
20. Bring a creature comfort or two. Maybe it’s a framed photo, an essential oil diffuser, your favorite blanket, or an article of clothing with your spouse’s scent. These are great ways to make your hotel room an even more calming space for you to regroup.
21. Pack your favorite book. Sometimes there’s nothing like escaping your current situation by diving into the characters and plot of that page-turner you’re currently reading. So tuck it into your bag and don’t be afraid to peel off for a few minutes, even if only to read a chapter. And if reading isn't your thing, maybe it's a phone game or a coloring app. (I’m partial to Happy Color.)
22. Limit multitasking to the extent possible. What’s the fastest way to get overwhelmed? Try to attend this event, while also overseeing countless work deadlines, and managing your household chores — all from a distance. To be most present, delegate work and home responsibilities to the extent possible.
23. Watch for signs you’re burning out. These events are all about balance. You can absolutely make new connections while also prioritizing the people you care about most. But should you see the signs of burnout creeping in, immediately put into motion a plan to take care of yourself.
24. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Out of a conference of more than 4,000 registered attendees, there are plenty of people who feel the same way you do. So don’t assume you’re the only one. Reach out to your friends, family, or colleagues to get the support you need. Sometimes I want a friendly face to chat with or someone who’s just willing to sit with me quietly and watch TV.
25. Schedule downtime for after the event. You want to take full advantage of the event. You have set yourself up for success at the show. You have given yourself grace if you do not see and speak to every person you had hoped to. You made a plan to thrive. You should also make a plan to recover. Block out time from work - yes, after having been out for a few days. Let your family know you will need space. Don't try to just step back into the hustle and bustle of your daily life. Schedule quiet time to reflect on what you learned, send follow-up notes to new and old connections, and just breathe.
Special thanks to all those who answered my call for ideas to populate this post. At the time of publication, I’d heard from and incorporated ideas from the following people (in alphabetical order by last name): Pam Donahoo, Joan Eisenstodt, Jeanette Gass, Andrea Holovach, Tracy King, Kevin Korenthal, Kiki L’Italien, Patty Leeman, Sheri Singer, Michael Tatonetti, and Sara Wood.
If you or someone you know is an introvert and/or has social anxiety when attending events like the ASAE Annual Meeting, please share with us your tips, tricks, and recommendations for navigating these in-person events using the comments below or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.