An Introvert Abroad: 3 Tips for Braving a Conference

The 10-year Roswell reunion panel on the final day of the festival. Image from Kayti Burt.

Last month, I traveled to Austin, Texas for the first time to take part in the third annual ATX Television Festival.

The ATX Festival is a three-day event that brings television actors, writers, showrunners, critics, and fans together at the Stephen F. Austin Intercontinental Hotel, the Alamo Drafthouse, and the State Theatre to talk TV.

As a professional television blogger and fan, this is my idea of a dream event.

As an introvert who is drained by social situations and who needs plenty of alone time to recharge, I was worried about the toll spending three days constantly surrounded by people would take on me. I feared hours of mindless small talk with strangers, the dreaded networking that happens at such an event, and the possibility that I would be completely drained of energy after Day One.

The reality was so much better than that.

I made some amazing friends, engaged on a deeper level with one of my chief passions, and have already purchased my ticket for next year. Though much of this is dependent upon the excellence of the event and the people it attracts, it was also a result of knowing myself and what I need to thrive in such a socially intense situation.

Here are a few tips for introverts looking to have a good time at similar events. Women in Travel Summit attendees, take note!

ATX Festival co-founders Caitlin McFarland and Emily Gipson introduce "The Strain" sneak peak screening.
ATX Festival co-founders Caitlin McFarland and Emily Gipson introduce “The Strain” sneak-peek screening. Image from Kayti Burt.

Explore what you are passionate about

Whether you are attending a conference for work or fun, hopefully the subject involves something you are passionate about. This will help immensely, as introverts often recharge by exploring deeply the subjects they find meaningful.

For me, watching television is not an act of passivity. It is an act of engagement. It involves empathy, critical analysis, and exploration. Ever since I was an overachieving kid whose schedule was filled to the brim with school, sports, and social engagements, engaging with my favorite television show has been one of my favorite ways to regain energy. As you may imagine, the ATX Festival involved quite a bit of watching and talking about TV. For me, every panel discussion was not a drain on my energy reserves, but a rejuvenation.

Seek out other introverts

It seems that television festivals tend to attract a more introverted crowd, which made finding people to engage in long, involved discussions in low-key situations relatively easy. In fact, I made a few friends the first day of the event who ended up being my go-to pals for the entire weekend. We would meet up for breakfast in the morning, compare our schedules during the day, and go out for dinner at nighttime to talk about our days.

As someone who prefers building existing relationships far more than creating new ones, this was ideal — and I imagine my new friends might feel the same way. I am still in contact with many of them, and we plan to find a hotel or apartment together at next year’s festival.

Peering up into the beautiful Texas Capitol Rotunda.
Peering up into the beautiful Texas Capitol Rotunda. Image from Kayti Burt.

Remember that you are keeping a short-term schedule

As much fun as I had at the ATX Festival — and it was a lot of fun — the schedule I kept was not sustainable.

Luckily, it didn’t have to be!

That thought was helpful to keep in mind during the long, social days that gave me few moments of solitude. When I returned to Massachusetts following my time in Austin, I slept for 12 hours straight. I was exhausted, and it was important to give myself that time to recharge.

If you know that you will be at an event that will give you minimal time alone, try to keep your schedule relatively light in the days following the event. It will make all the difference — both as a comforting reminder during your busy conference weekend and for your sanity upon your return home.

Do you have any tips for getting the most out of conferences as an introvert? Share them in the comments below!

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