Introverts, Extroverts and Conference Attendance

As WordCamp Vancouver comes up I have some thoughts on conference organization in general. I don't really know what's happening at WordCamp, I'm speaking from my experiences at conferences, including WordCamps.

Overall, I dislike going to them and I think I'm starting to figure out why. In short, they're built for extroverts and I'm not one so it's all pretty dang stressful for me.

In Quiet by Susan Cain, we learn that introverts are more reactive than extroverts to external stimulation. In short, it takes way less stimulation to get a big reaction from introverts.

Things I've Hated that Encourage me to Stay Away or Leave Early

My biggest struggle with conferences is almost always the "after" events. They are usually in bars and it's loud. You have to shout to be heard over the shouting of others even if you're almost touching the person you're talking to. You get handed alcohol, which is like being offered a glass of extroversion[^Quiet page 143].

All of this happens at the end of a day of talking to people. Yes, many of the conversations are something I enjoy, but it's still lots of stimulation in the day of an introvert.

I wouldn't choose this type of event to attend on it's own merits ever. It all sounds like a terrible way to get into any meaningful conversation. There has never been a conference I've been to where the "after" event felt like it had any value in any way. It was all about social signalling that you had lots of people to talk to.

Even listening to many podcast of popular people in WordPress[^Which I haven't done in years because they also felt like mostly a waste of my time] most talks about WordCamps at some point turned to the amount of alcohol consumed and the stupid things that happened after.

For me, and fellow introverts, that sounds like a terrible time.

Yet, we continue to plan events like this at the end of conferences as the default social thing for all attendees. If you don't show up, you're signalling to others that you're not important or loud enough to be there and thus often matter less in the grand scheme of things.

The Things I've Loved in Conferences

The best times at conferences in my years of going to them has been all about small group connections. At WordCamp a number of years ago someone who read my blog named Theron asked to take me out for coffee to say thanks for all the help I'd provided him in running his business. We had a wonderful 90 minutes talking across the street from WordCamp Vancouver and have mantained connection to this day.

At WooConf Justin Sainton, who knows I hate the big groups, grabbed me and a few others to head out of the after event and over to a burger joint. We had a wonderful two hours talking about marriage, family, being dad, and business struggles.

In all of the other WordCamps or conferences I've gone to over the years I don't remember a single other conversation that I had with anyone in those crazy after parties. This says to me that they were a waste of my time.

Who Says You Have to Go To Conferences Anyway?

As I've contemplated my conference schedule for the summer[^Let's face it for the year because I haven't been to anything in two years] I'm forced to ask myself, who says I have to go to conferences anyway? Since the only benefit I've ever seen from them is the one on one or small group connections and conferences are mostly about getting with big groups, why on earth would I invest my time in events that I hate?

The conclusion is, that I likely won't. I'll spend my time with the "big" groups of tech people in my hometown of Chilliwack. This big group that meets once a month is so big that we took up four whole chairs at a local pub.

Our big Startup Grind events are 20 people and the conversation levels are always quiet enough and venues big enough that you don't feel like you have to shout to be heard over the noise.

Will I miss out on some connections? Sure, but the value in connections for me is always in the small group or one on one discussions and has never been in the social signalling that drinking beer and talking loud before doing stupid stuff provides.

I'm still thinking about WordCamp Vancouver but mostly because it's close and I'll focus on inviting a few people out for a coffee before the "after" event and then leave without attending.

Photo by: clement127