With VMworld fast approaching, some are eager to party and catch up with Twitter friends. Wading through crowds vying for free USB keys and lighted rubber balls excites them. Others wonder how they will endure serial smalltalk. Or how they can make an appearance at an insanely loud, hot, alcohol-fueled soiree, and still execute a perfectly-timed exit.
This post will deal with the latter. You know who you are. You’re the guy or gal who loves technology, wants to be knee-deep in a tech conference. You would prefer about 12,000 less people engaging only in meaningful, passionate, technical conversations.
First things first. Realize your introversion doesn’t make you a freak who prefers being in your shell at all times. It simply means you derive your energy from within. You recharge your internal batteries alone, digesting your thoughts with few distractions. Extroverts recharge their batteries right there on the show floor. While they yell over loud music and megaphones to tell people what they had for dinner, they’re gaining energy. You are one to analyze a band’s musical prowess, while analyzing their tonal structures. Extroverts are the ones kicking you in the face crowd-surfing at the same concert.
Introverts can make gigantic tech conferences easier to digest, and condition their batteries at the same time.
1. Talk to people
The popular stereotype is that introverts don’t like people, and don’t like to carry on conversations. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Introverts love to carry on conversations with anyone who will engage on a topic we feel passionate about. Once engaged, it is hard to stop some introverts from talking. This is one reason I love attending Tech Field Day events. You’re in a pre-selected group of your peers, who are guaranteed to have passionate opinions, and want to engage on the topics you care about. Introverts generally think about a topic pretty deeply before discussing. According to Susan Cain, in the book QUIET –
This “may also help explain why they’re so bored by small talk. “If you’re thinking in more complicated ways, – then talking about the weather or where you went for the holidays is not quite as interesting as talking about values or morality.””
Take advantage of vendors who are dying to tell you all about the intricacies of their products, and schedule one on one time with them. Find a few vendors you really want to learn more about. Most of the better ones will have times when you can sit for a on on one briefing, or quick “Genius Bar” type conversation with one of their engineers. I highly recommend doing this. It’ll get you engaged, and you’ll be talking to someone who is passionate, and deeply technical (most of the time).
2. Get a hotel that’s as close as possible to the conference center
Sounds like a no brainer, right? While all personality types want to minimize their walking distance, and maximize their conference time, this is especially important for the introvert. It allows you the flexibility to head back to the room, and catch your breath during the day, if you need to. When you feel your batteries running down, go ahead and skip that session you had scheduled. It’s going to be online later anyway. Head back, and wind down for an hour. Recharge, and veg out. This can make a dramatic difference in your day. If you’re stuck with all those people, and constantly shuffling from session, to hall, to crowded meals, you’ll be completely wiped before dinner.
3. Go out for meals
Yea. I know. Your company paid for a conference where meals were included. But unless you’re in Vegas, the catering is generally horrible anyway. Hit Tripadvisor, or Yelp to find close restaurants you’d like to try, and get away from the crowds for a bit. If you find other conference attendees at these places, guess what. . . They’re likely doing the same thing as you, and if you end up getting into a conversation with them, it will be engaging. They likely hate smalltalk as well, and want to share some of their complex thoughts with an equally complex thinker.
4. Don’t skip parties
Make sure you go to at least a couple parties. Most of the time, you can find fellow introverts hanging out, sipping slowly, drifting toward the door. If you do, execute a casual greeting, with all the tentativeness you’d want from them. If they do want to chat, it won’t be some asymmetrical, bombastic conversation, where you’re competing for volume. It’ll likely be on a technical topic you can appreciate, and will value. Exchange cards with that person. This is how we introverts can network without the high schmooze factor, and wasting valuable energy.
5. Don’t forget labs
If you need a break to recharge, you can always go do some labs. Nobody will bother you there, and it’s pretty quiet. Don’t stress out about missing sessions you wanted to see. Again, they’ll be available online just a few weeks after the conference.
6. General Sessions are great from hang spaces
Most of the hang spaces at the conference will be broadcasting the general sessions live. If you’re not feeling up to the crowds, you don’t need to stand in a sea of people, waiting to get a decent seat at these. Just head over to the beanbags, and watch from there.
Most of all, have fun. Don’t try to take it ALL in. Prioritize. There’s too much for even the most extroverted to experience all of VMworld.