Many posts this week offer suggestions for managing social anxiety to make it through BlogHer’s premiere conference in San Jose next week. Breathe deeply, introverts are told, and trust that you’ll find remarkable connections and moments even when surrounded by 5,000 people.
Those posts are useful, by the way, and contain solid advice for managing social anxiety in large crowds.
But I haven’t noticed many suggestions on how to best harness your extroversion at BlogHer’14. I noticed because I wander back and forth across the extrovert/introvert line, getting energy by being alone but with public-performance itches about as theatrical as you can get. It is from this ambivalent place that I bring you my Introvert/Extrovert Guide to BlogHer’14.
Introverts: Though there are a lot of people at BlogHer, they don’t actually surround you at any point. You don’t have to face 5,000 people or touch 5,000 people. You will be in the same city as 5,000 people. That likely happens to you daily. There is space to be alone and close out the noises when you need to. And when it’s time to listen to the awesome content produced by the many lovely humans sharing their knowledge and passion at a BlogHer conference, you’ll be in a room with 20-100 people, all of whom are ignoring you to listen.
Extroverts: Sakes alive, there will be times for you to be near 5,000 people! This is only at eating occasions, of course, and nobody will pay any attention to you because they’re waiting for or eating food and trying to have conversations with the one or two people who’ve piqued their interest. But you can spend the lunch break walking past hundreds of tables, feeding off the buzz of engaged, excited bloggers. And if you sit down and make contact with the people at one table, you will have at least ten people with whom to talk, laugh, cry, and share. If that doesn’t work, get up and try another table. There are hundreds of opportunities for an audience.
Introverts: Rest assured, there are places to get away. Convention Centers are notoriously large, but that means there are hundreds of bathroom stalls into which you can be by yourself when necessary. Walk the opposite direction of any stream of lovely humans and sneak into the farthest bathroom you can find. At both the hotel and convention center last year I found bathrooms that were completely empty. And I mean take-your-pick-from-ten-stalls empty. Door closed, lock slid, deep breath taken, wall of voices dissipated, blood pressure calmed. [Side note: avoid the coffee lines at all costs if you're introverted. Caffeinated people who want more caffeine but have to wait for quite some time often get both chatty and agitated. I have PCLSD (post coffee line stress disorder) from last year.]
Extroverts: Prepare and pace yourself, there are many choices for places to see, be seen, chat, and engage. There are thousands of excited bloggers around you. My caution to you is this: the generally celebrated habit of approaching strangers with a warm smile and firm handshake does not always go over well at BlogHer. At social parties I try to approach those who look out of place or uncomfortable because I seek to place at ease the world’s discomfited. But at BlogHer, there are more than a handful of introverts just trying to get by, and my approach with a willingness to converse is their kryptonite. Set your anxiety-scanner to high and proceed with care before approaching a blogger who looks as though she could use a friend. If she runs in the opposite direction, it’s probably because she needs to go to the loo. The farthest one.
Introverts: Choose your panels in advance so you can schedule where to be and when. That way you know when your breaks are, you know where to go, and you can look confident moving toward something. You will find amazing moments if you schedule a bit of social time, too, not just the deeply informational sessions. Try the VOTY party for reasonably low-key, high-quality socializing with bloggers you might read. It’s the end of Friday’s activities which means if you’ve had too much DAY in your day, you can pop in, grab some food, and leave. Just know you don’t have to go to anything. You choose. Default to just the sessions and you’ll have a wonderful conference. Try a few of the parties or mixer sessions and you might be pleasantly surprised.
Extroverts: Choose your panels in advance so you can schedule where to be and when. If you tend to default to going wherever the herd is going, you will miss the sessions that might change your life. Stick to a plan of what your personal or professional needs are at BlogHer, and save the socializing for the many opportunities the schedule gives you for interaction. In my humble opinion, the VOTY party is your best bet for full-on extrovert time because the food and the company ROCK.
Introverts: Take advantage of the scheduled breaks. There is time between sessions and after meals during which you can decompress. Please, for the sake of all that’s holy, get away and get some quiet. BlogHer offers 15+ hours per day of programming. You will die a hard, exhausted death on the way back to the hotel if you don’t take every free minute as a hide-in-the-loo break.
Extroverts: You, too. Take breaks. You will supernova if you don’t pace yourself. It’s 5,000 people 15+ hours a day for three days. You won’t miss too much if you put your feet up for 15 minutes.
Introverts: You are among your people. Many, many bloggers are drained by social interaction, and you will likely find a group of other creative, lovely, inspired, passionate introverts with whom to bond. Take a deep breath and know that the BlogHer attendees know about introversion. We know you’re going to need time away. We’re cool with that, mostly because a lot of us are like you.
Extroverts: You’re among your people. Many BlogHer attendees thrive on social interaction and want both planned sessions and party time. You will likely find a group of other creative, lovely, inspired, passionate, extroverts with whom to bond. Brace yourself and get everything from this process as you can. They built [a nearby] City on rock and roll. And extroverts like you!