Can You Attend a Conference as Yourself?


Editor’s note: This is an encore appearance of a blog post written in by marketing guru Dhyan Atkinson in advance of the 2012 conference of the Association of Personal Historians. She has updated it to reflect the 2013 conference information.

Capital Reflections, the 2013 conference of the Association of Personal Historians, starts this week in Washington, DC. It’s a wonderful experience to network with some of the best in our business. But for introverts, any large gathering can be a problem.

I often talk about the experience of “Marketing Introverts” out in the business world because I am one myself. In a blog post for the Harvard Business Review, titled “How to Attend a Conference as Yourself,” writer Peter Bregman doesn’t use those words, but he describes the experience of such a person vividly.

Bregman is a strategic advisor to CEOs and author of the book, 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done.

His blog post focused on his experiences as a panelist for South by Southwesta  huge 10-day convergence of music, films, and emerging technologies, held annually in Austin, Texas. He writes that his panel presentation and book signing went great, but once that was over and he was just another person at the conference, things didn’t go as he had hoped.

“I went to a conference party and just stood there, shy, embarrassed, and reluctant to reach out and meet people. I was annoyed with myself. What’s my deal?”

Making plans to meet a friend at a conference event can help introverts feel more comfortable. At right, members Pat McNees and Rae Jean Sielen had great fun connecting at the 2009 APH Conference reception.


Unfortunately, I know only too well what Bregman’s “deal” was. Mingling at the social event, drink in hand, surrounded by seemingly confident people, a marketing introvert will often go cold and not know how to approach others or what to say.

In his post, Bregman made a good point about his own experience of this discomfort.  He identified that, for him, the fact that he is standing there without a purpose or a role makes it difficult to know “who he is or should be” in relation to these other people.  He called this a “conference-generated identity crisis.” Once he just let himself “be himself” he relaxed and found that other people naturally approached him and that, amazingly, he really did have things to say.

If you both long for and dread the opportunity to meet lots of other personal historians at the conference, this is a good article for you to read in advance of your trip to Washington, DC.  It will be good news to you that you can “go as yourself” and have a wonderful experience with all your peers.

As one of those peers, and as an introvert myself, I wish you only the best as you attend Capital Reflections, the 2013 annual conference of the Association of Personal Historians, Nov. 8-12, in Washington, DC. I’m sorry that I can’t join you this year, but I look forward to hearing all about it. Comment below: What are YOUR best tips for getting the most out of an event like this?

About today’s contributor: Dhyan Atkinson is a business consultant and business skills trainer who specializes in working with personal historians through private consulting, teleclasses, and workshops through her business, The Five Essential Skills

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10 Responses to Can You Attend a Conference as Yourself?

  1. Wendy Ledger says:

    One of my favorite ways to deal with my introversion is to volunteer. That way, I can provide a service and also interact in a way that feels comfortable to me. It provides me with an initial contact, and it helps others. Win/win!

  2. Dhyan,

    Thanks for such great advice as usual. I wish I’d read something like this before my first APH conference. This will be my third conference, but I’m still an introvert. I usually find it more comfortable starting a conversation at the social events with someone who is standing off by themselves. One introvert helping another. I also always introduce myself to the people sitting around me in the sessions. From then on you are seeing smiling faces all around. I’ve learned a great deal from these new contacts too. Of course, I exchange business cards. Thanks for you usual wonderful advice. I hope you are doing okay these days.


    • Thanks, Martha! the one thing I know is that, if you resist that dread or reluctance and go anyway, mixing with other people gets SOOOO much easier over time. So much so that sometimes it is hard to tell the introverts from the extroverts! Ha! Dhyan

  3. Sometimes I’m “on” but sometimes I look around at ‘all the confident’ people and get quite intimidated. Just this afternoon I glanced at a man and smiled but he did not reciprocate. I immediately cast judgment “Oh he must be from LA (no offense my LA colleagues!) I said to myself in regard to his lack of response to my gesture. However rather than wallowing in retreat I “Let it begin with me” walked over asked him a question and introduced myself. We proceeded to engage in a 20-minute conversation! So my advise is to take a deep breath and remind yourself to “Let it begin with me”.
    Thank you for the blog Dhyan!

  4. It was a wonderful thing to learn that others are often waiting for people to talk to them. Walking up to that person who is also standing alone and asking them where they are from is often all it takes to get a conversation started. If it peters out, one can always look to the food table and say, Oh, the … looks good, I need to try that, and escape to try again with someone else. Great post Dhyan!

  5. Dan Darling says:

    Thanks, Dhyan. This describes me perfectly, and I’m happy to have a way to prepare myself so this will be a GREAT conference.

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