The Introvert’s Guide to Conferences

woman hiding behind bookOkay, so you notice there’s no shortage of advice out there about how to make the most of a conference. But what about those of us who are introverts? It can be even more difficult for us to navigate these social situations. Oh, how we envy our extrovert friends! Are there any special tips for people like us?

Well, yes, there are. Here are a few ideas to consider:

1. Change your mindset from “me” to “them.” You’re at the conference to learn and to network, but paradoxically, the best way to do that is to focus on the needs of others. Set your own discomfort aside, and look for others who may also be uncomfortable, and see how you can make things easier for them. Even if you’re talking with an agent or editor, focus on them instead of yourself. Ask questions about their experience. See if there’s anything they need. This is one of the best ways for an introvert to get out of their shell.

2. Research before the conference. If there are authors, editors, or agents you’re interested in talking with, Google them ahead of time to get some ideas for possible topics of conversation. They won’t seem like total strangers, and you won’t feel like an idiot in trying to have a conversation.

3. Reach out before the conference. There may be some people to whom you can send a quick email or Facebook message, inviting them to coffee, asking if they’d like to sit with you at a meal, or otherwise planning ahead for some of your social interactions. This is especially important if you’ve had online communication with people but don’t know them offline. You’ll feel more comfortable if you have some planned meetings with others.

4. Have some questions or opening lines ready. Think through the range of people you will likely meet, and write down a number of conversation openers that will help you overcome any awkwardness when meeting someone. Try to avoid yes/no questions, and make sure you listen carefully to the answers, which will give you clues for continuing the conversation. Some possible conversation-starters:

  • What’s your favorite part of the conference so far? (Or, what are you most looking forward to at the conference?)
  • What brings you to this conference?
  • What do you find most valuable about these conferences?
  • What did you think of today’s keynote speaker?
  • Can you tell me a little about your work?

5. Also, have some answers of your own ready. Plan some concise and fascinating answers to questions like, “So, what do you write?” and “Tell me about yourself.” You don’t want to be tongue-tied at those moments!

6. Prepare your book pitch. Make sure you’ve organized your thoughts about the book(s) you’re pitching, so you can easily give a 1 or 2 minute spiel when asked.

7. Approach it with a friend. Make sure you and your friend encourage each other to talk to new people. Be each other’s wingman and moral support—DON’T use each other as a crutch and don’t just talk to each other. You each may know different people, so plan to introduce your friend to people you know, and she can do the same for you. You can also highlight each other’s accomplishments in a conversation.

8. Be a part of the conference. Volunteer to help! A great way to overcome introvert tendencies is to put yourself in a place where people are coming to you for help or answers to questions. When you’re volunteering, be as friendly and outgoing as you can, allowing for serendipitous connections.

9. Rejuvenate yourself as needed. If, as an introvert, you need solitude to get re-energized, plan time for this. Whether it’s quiet time in your hotel room, a half-hour in the hotel gym or a walk outside, make self-care a priority in your schedule.

Readers, anything to add? Any questions about conferences?



Are you an introvert? Going to a conference? This post is for you! Click to Tweet.

Advance preparation is the key to successfully navigating a conference. Click to Tweet.

[Image copyright: sifotography / 123RF Stock Photo]

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Angela Parlin on October 11, 2015 at 6:57 PM

    Excellent article from a fellow introvert…and I look forward to meeting you, Rachelle, at the conference this week! 🙂

  2. Jane Steen on October 10, 2015 at 9:06 AM

    Having worked on a conference, I’d add this advice (or perhaps plea): budget and plan for the conference properly before you sign up, and take careful note of the date past which the organizers aren’t offering a refund. A conference isn’t cheap: there’s travel, the hotel, probably a new outfit or two and spending money to take into account as well as the fee. Don’t just sign up and forget about it for months, then panic, realize you haven’t planned for the conference and don’t have anything to pitch, and try to get your money back a couple of weeks before the conference. That’s unfair on the organizers.

    And don’t be the person who informs the organizers the week before the conference that, having spent the last 15 years on her book, she is now ready to pitch and expects you to have an agent or two (any agent will do) lined up for her at short notice. Yes, people do that.

    And have a complete manuscript ready if you’re pitching, for goodness’ sake. I can’t believe the number of attendees I’ve talked to who are planning to pitch a couple of chapters or even an idea.

    A conference is s serious investment in your career. Approach it like a professional project!

  3. Advice for Introverts | ndrichman on October 10, 2015 at 8:41 AM

    […] I have a confession to make – I’m a raging introvert. This may surprise those who know me because at work I manage large teams of people with flair and I have no fear of public speaking, but in social situations I’m literally terrified. I slink around conferences like a scared dog and want to crawl under my chair in a bar. So this article is particularly relevant to me. For my fellow introverts, I hope you enjoy it. […]

  4. Karen Ingle on October 10, 2015 at 8:36 AM

    One more idea: Just do it.

    After my first conference, complete with heart palpitations and a retreat to my room during the closing banquet, I found out that knowing what to expect the next time dispelled half my discomfort.

    The above suggestions should take care of most of the rest. Thanks for this post!

  5. Richard Mabry on October 10, 2015 at 7:59 AM

    Rachelle, thanks for speaking to those of us who are introverts…and it’s my experience that includes the vast majority of authors, despite what public persona we put on. Great suggestions. I’m glad you shared them.

  6. Diana Harkness on October 10, 2015 at 5:59 AM

    All good points. I will add some others since I think I’m on the extreme end of the introvert scale:
    Don’t travel to the conference with someone you don’t know. Guard that time in the car. I once volunteered to drive a stranger and I was so stressed by the time I arrived at the conference that I had a nosebleed (That is not normal for me.) And after we arrived, the person’s friends ignored her so I was stuck with her for the entire 2 days.

    Don’t feel like you need to take in every workshop, every talk. Take whatever time you need to decompress and don’t feel guilty about it. take walks outside the conference. Read a good book.

    Don’t foget to supply yourself with whatever you need to decompress. I had determined ahead of time to wear whatever felt most comfortable to me and not to stress about it. I had my ipod full of music, walking shoes, and a bottle of wine. And I have learned to always carry pain relievers (Ibuprofen, aspirin, Tylenol) for those stress headaches.

    • Jane Steen on October 10, 2015 at 9:09 AM

      Diana, you clearly had a terrible experience, but it’s not always like that. As a newbie I learned more about the book biz by listening to the seasoned authors during a five-hour drive to a conference than I did at the conference itself; and I made a wonderful friend by sharing a room with a stranger.

  7. Peter DeHaan on October 10, 2015 at 4:34 AM

    Thanks for these great tips! I’d add prayer to the list. I try to pray for the conference as the date draws near, and my wife prays for me before I head out. This is especially important if I am speaking at the conference or have a meeting scheduled with an agent or editor.

  8. Castle Librarian on October 9, 2015 at 6:15 PM

    Is the author an actual introvert? I am and I am bothered by the phrase “get out of their shell.” Introverts don’t have shells. We aren’t snails or turtles. We are valid human beings with valid preferences. Please read the book Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Everyone should read this book to better understand introversion and that it’s not something that needs to be fixed.

    • Rachelle Gardner on October 10, 2015 at 9:08 AM

      Thanks for your thoughts! As you know, introverts all have their own experience of it, and we’re all on a spectrum. I am indeed an “actual” introvert and while I understand you don’t experience yourself as having a “shell,” I do experience it that way. But it was wrong of me to make assumptions about other people’s experience!

      While we don’t need to be “fixed,” we surely need to learn skills to live successfully in an extroverted world, as Susan Cain points out in her brilliant book.

      Thanks for your perspective!

    • Porter Anderson on October 10, 2015 at 2:16 PM

      Just in case another perspective would help here, I didn’t get the feeling that Rachelle was saying that introverts need to be “fixed,” nor do I think that the idea of a “shell” is foreign to many introverts. What’s more, I can guarantee you that Rachelle is aware of Susan Cain’s excellent book — which has helped many of us redefine introversion from an idea of being “shy” to one of energy management: introverts tend to be drained by social contact while extroverts tend to draw energy from the same contact.

      I have had the pleasure of being at a conference several days long with Rachelle, as a matter of fact, and I can tell you that she’s smarter than I am about all this. She was up early every day, running in nourishing solitude to get herself ready for the day filled with people and demands, and she continually took better care of her needs than I certainly did. (I’m introverted, too, and consider it a blessing, not a curse.) As we left the conference, Rachelle looked steady, stable, and refreshed … and I looked like a wreck. 🙂

      If you will allow me just one observation: Many more people than you might think are fully aware of introversion and its characteristics, not least thanks to Cain’s fine book. Coming in a little less hot in comments than you did might be a good idea until you know a bit more about who you’re addressing.

      You’re certainly among friends here at Rachelle’s excellent column.


      On Twitter: @Porter_Anderson

      • Tamara on October 12, 2015 at 1:00 PM

        Also an introvert. The shell part didn’t bother me at all. That’s exactly what I strive to do: get out of it.

    • Laura C. Brandenburg on October 16, 2015 at 4:59 PM

      I love Susan Cain’s book, as others here have mentioned, and yet I’m not offended by the encouragement to get out of my shell. It’s metaphorical, but for some of us it really does apply. When I first arrived at the ACFW conference as a first-timer, I checked in to my hotel room and sat there for over an hour, trying to convince myself to go downstairs and meet someone. (Is my room a metaphorical shell? :))

      Overall, this is great advice! I wish I had done a little more of #3, so that I could have planned to join a group sooner. (Thankfully, the folks at ACFW are amazing, and I made several friends with other fellow first-timers. :))