Do you want to connect in person at conferences and events but dread how exhausted you know you will be afterward?
Do you long to meet more authors at all stages of the journey, but worry that you will just stay curled up in a ball in your hotel room?
Don't worry, you're not alone!
I recently shared a video on the importance of doubling down on being human in an age of AI, and one of my recommendations was to do more in-person events, conferences, and meetings, to make new ties, and stronger connections.
But I know how hard it is!
I'm an introvert (INFJ on the Myers Briggs), so I get energy from being alone. I used to think there was something wrong with me, but Susan Cain's book, Quiet, amongst other things, helped me realize it's quite a common thing.
I am about to head to 20Books Vegas, possibly the biggest author conference in the world with several thousand indie authors, many of whom are introverts like me — so I need help to manage my energy!
But I know it's worth going to in-person events. I have made many great friends, business connections, and also learned strategies and tips that have helped my author career. It's important to make the effort, but it's a good idea to be prepared.
Back in the spring, when I was exhausted from the last conference season, I asked my community for their tips on energy management and have collated some of them below. Thanks to everyone who contributed.
Pick and choose what might work for you — and then go to that conference or event. You never know how it might change your author career for the better.
Where to stay
You might find it helpful to get accommodation well away from the event, to give yourself time to decompress on your walk back to your hotel and literally get some space.
However, others like to sneak off to their room for a nap during the day, in which case you’ll need to be staying on-site.
One thing that seems important is not to share a room with anyone and don’t stay with friends if you need to be alone.
Guy W says, “Between sessions, [I] melt away to my room for a “nap.” Jet lag is an awesome excuse. I probably won’t sleep, but just rest, read, think, etc. I have no compunction about missing other people’s sessions to make sure my energy is there for my own.
On the other hand, Yvonne K tries “not to get accommodation inside the event hotel. I like to walk and get away from the energy of the place. It's less likely I'll run into someone in the hall and feel I need to strike up a conversation.” She also ensures she gets “accommodation with a bathtub because baths help me relax.”
Tom M makes sure he includes “the cost of a half-decent hotel in the event budget. I once made the mistake of crashing with friends to save money, and was forced to string polite and coherent sentences together both before and after the event, which was the straw that broke the camel's back.”
Get there early
A common suggestion is to arrive early, whether that’s to the location of the conference to do a bit of touristy stuff for a day or two first, or to the venue on the day. Give yourself time to scout things out in advance.
Holger P: “By being early for events I can scout the venue and the place before it’s getting crowded. I can figure out where the restrooms are so I don’t have to ask later on, where the food will be served, escape routes, all the practical things.
But also I can connect to the organizers or other early bird people at the event. That gives me time in a non-crowded environment to build a relationship to a few people, and I can come back to them during the whole event again and again. They can be my anchors to socialize because we already have something in common, that is being the first people at the event.”
Guy W: “I usually arrive at least a day early, and will wander around the city/town/middle of nowhere, on my own. I’ll also spend a significant amount of time lying in bed reading a book, or napping. This helps with getting the stimulating effect of novelty out of the way before the people get there en masse.”
Yvonne K: “I scout out the area around the event and my accommodation and find a lovely coffee spot. This is where I can read, journal, and get some alone time.”
Taking a magnesium supplement was recommended by several people for helping with sleep and migraines:
Suzanne W says “I do get migraines from overwhelm also, for me taking magnesium helps (but I'm not a nutritionist so you might want to make sure it won't interact with anything else you're taking), and another HSP (highly sensitive person) told me she benefits from taking magnesium before bed.”
Isha says “I have found Reishi (a Chinese mushroom) and Magnesium Glycinate are two amazing support tools for my nervous system – which is probably severely unbalanced because of my caffeine addiction but they make such a difference – the magnesium is like a kiss on the forehead before I’m tucked into bed.”
Yoga nidra / meditation / tai Chi
Use a calming yoga/meditation practice, like yoga Nidra to regulate your nervous system. This can help keep you calm before the event and recharge afterward. Tai Chi also affects your energy in a positive way.
Jonathan recommends the I Am Yoga apps.
The practice of NSDR (Non-Sleep Deep Relaxation) was also recommended.
There are exercises you can do to protect yourself so that you are less affected by the energy of others around you.
Counsellors and life coaches who know they are going to be dealing with upset or difficult people often use these to help prevent themselves from taking on board all the emotions of others.
Lucretia says, “Consider creating some energetic boundary practices for yourself. e.g. before going into a crowd, visualize bringing up mirrored walls around you to reflect energy back rather than absorb it. Then when you leave these situations, imagine a shower of silver rain washing off any energy that has stuck to you.
If you can do this last step while standing on the grass or by visualizing yourself doing so, this will be even more helpful. Note, the energy of others is not necessarily ‘bad’ or ‘good’, it just is. You are a sensitive person which makes you porous, a bit like a kitchen sponge – welcome to the club!”
Book meetings to suit you
If you find that you are better at a particular time of day, can you arrange meetings to fit?
Yasmine says “I know that I am a night owl, and I have become quite unashamed about this (especially since reading that Winston Churchill was the same!). So I don't take morning in-person meetings or appearances. I just don't. It's been amazing to me how many of my interview hosts and speaking requesters have been willing to change the appearance time to afternoon or evening when I suggest a change of time.”
Allow yourself to say no
Once at the event, allow yourself to say no to things that you know are going to drain you, whether that’s the whole event or a session within the conference.
You might not take part in the event to the extent that others do, but is that really a problem?
Think JOMO (joy of missing out) not FOMO (fear of missing out).
Remember your goals:
Yasmine says “I write out my big-picture goals for the year (and other time intervals) and keep them in front of me at my desk. That helps me ask myself, when it comes to any new opportunity: “Will this help me advance my goals?” and “Will I love doing it?” If the answer is “no” to both, then the answer is “no” to the opportunity.”
And Tom M says “I also give myself permission to miss sessions if I need to. I was asked to speak on Self-Publishing at the last Children's Author Hui in Auckland and took a session or two off before my slot, just to drink coffee and conserve my mental energy. It meant I could rock up to my own session feeling less overwhelmed, and when things got crazier after my talk, with everyone wanting to speak to me, I was ready for it.”
You can even say no to dinner, as Holger P does: “I will not join dinner during events with the rest of the people if I can avoid it. And most cases I can avoid it.
If I am the show runner, then I will tell people that I need to reset my brain and to take an early rest to be my best self the next day and then I will have my dinner on my room. And that is an important factor too, I would not go out for dinner on my own but order food to my hotel room. That way I can eat the way I want to eat and I can do whatever I want to do without anybody around. I feel the fear of missing out every time I do that, but I know I need to accept that I need rest.
Several people mentioned the practice of grounding, as feeling connected to the earth can help you feel calmer. When we get anxious it can feel like tension is rising up in our chests and throats. Finding ways to ground yourself will make you feel more present and relaxed.
Lorna says, “I go outside and find 1. a patch of grass, 2. sand, or 3. stone—in that order of preference—and I take off my shoes and spend 5-20 minutes connecting to Earth. Nothing beats cool, lush grass to stand in. It’s more calming and rejuvenating to me than a 2-hour nap. Other methods: put your feet in running water, or feet up to the fire pit. I suppose you could do hands instead, but I’m a Pisces, lol. I’ve been doing this for 30 years and it still works for me.”
Katie M suggests that “if you are stuck sitting in a conference room and can’t get outside, place your feet flat on the floor and imagine roots growing out of the soles of your feet, going down deeper and deeper and spreading into the earth beneath you. Allow your breathing to slow and focus on the downward motion of the exhale.”
Find a buddy
As Holger P mentions in the section about arriving early, making a connection with someone you can buddy up with will reduce anxiety significantly.
Tom M likes to find “a conference buddy as soon as I can… someone with whom I no longer need to make small talk and a friendly face to retreat to when I'm starting to get peopled-out. Sometimes these are authors I have met previously, but not always, as there are always a few introverts on the periphery looking for more meaningful connections.”
Guy W takes a similar approach: “Arrange beforehand to have a chat with one specific person at e.g. the dinner or party. So rather than showing up for random interaction, I’ll arrange to e.g. discuss a particular problem a student or colleague is having at the dinner. This creates a more predictable, less tiring structure.”
Take a nap/rest
Almost everyone had some suggestions around resting during the event, whether that’s taking a “nap”, as Guy W mentions in the Where to stay section, or leaving the event to drink coffee, read a book, make notes, or whatever you need.
Yvonne: “During the event, I'll periodically find myself a quiet corner and write down anything that's popped into my mind. I get a lot of inspiration during these events and I need to give myself time to think and write them down.
Tom M: “Going for walks on my own or with one or two others also helps keep the overwhelm at bay. Just getting away from the crowds for a breather before
diving back in.”
Holger P: “If I recognize that my energy is getting lower and I have the need to separate myself but it would be not the right time to leave the event for my own room, I would grab the book to read or my notebook to draw or take notes. Normally people would leave me alone if I did these two activities.” He recommends noise-cancelling earphones as a must-have.
[I just bought the latest BOSE Quiet Comfort noise-canceling headphones, upgrading from the pair I bought four years ago. They are a must-have for me! I've even slept in them at times when a hotel has been noisy, which is something Vegas can certainly be!]
Perhaps it’s obvious if you have ever spent the day in a windowless conference center, but getting outside is an excellent way to recharge during an event.
Tom M mentions “Going for walks on my own or with one or two others … helps keep the overwhelm at bay. Just getting away from the crowds for a breather before diving back in.
Yvonne K also recommends some fresh air: “During the event, I'll go outside and into the sun and sit. This counts as alone and decompression time, but mostly it helps my overstimulated nervous system to calm down a bit.”
Watch what you eat and drink
Drinking lots of water and keeping a limit on caffeine and alcohol could help to prevent your system from getting too hyped up.
[Easier said than done, especially when caffeine helps with jetlag, and alcohol helps with social anxiety!]
Lucretia recommends “reducing foods/substances that amp up your nervous system (sugar, alcohol, caffeine) [and] eating more root vegetables as these also help to root you more into the ground.”
Annette L tries to stay off the booze: “Drinking is bad for my energy management. I longingly watch others have beautiful drinks and they seem to carry on daily at maximum energy. Not the reality for me.”
Holger P: “Drinking water a lot to manage my energy … But I must admit that I tend to drink a lot of Coke and a lot of coffee during events. Every time I stay with the water I feel way better than with the sugar and coffee in loaded drinks. [Also] You can call them high-protein snacks or dopamine food but I have always a bag full of nuts, dried berries, … and sugar-free snacks that have high protein. And you would see me eating them all the time. Also I stay away from heavy food, meaning pasta, cheese, potatoes – all that crap. If I eat that during the day, for lunch for example, I would fall into an energy dip that I will not recover especially being an introvert at events. So, as hard as it is, I keep to salad, greens and meat.”
Wear your costume
Holger P makes the interesting suggestion of always wearing the same clothes to any event: “Having the same dress every time every day releases the stress of deciding before the event what I need or want to take on what people expect me to wear. I’m looking the same every time and people get used to it.”
He also wears an accessory of a pen holder on his belt, which makes a nice conversation starter for people to come up and chat to him about, avoiding the awkward small talk.
Quick hacks to de-stress in the moment
An effective “hack” to calm yourself and reduce feelings of anxiety is to use Dr Andrew Huberman’s “Physiological Sigh” technique: a deep nasal inhale until you feel your lungs are full, then do a quick second nasal inhale. Exhale fully through your mouth. This is a naturally occurring breathing pattern that instantly reduces stress hormones in your system.
One community member said: “Years ago (actually decades ago) I read a book, The Quieting Reflex, that helped with overload and social anxiety. I still use the quick technique it teaches when I need to stay in a busy room or intense conversation for what feels like too long for me or if anxiety grips me suddenly. It’s one of the few methods I found that helps in the moment.”
After the event: Recovery
Going to an event away from home, especially if travel is involved, is definitely going to be tiring. The secret is to be prepared for this and build recovery time into your schedule for the days afterward.
Yvonne finds she’s “very drained after an event no matter how much self-care I do during the event.”
Annette L says: “I now accept that after travel and events where most would define me as a social butterfly… I will crash and need a recoup period when I get home… so now I own it, book it, plan for it, and try to just not berate myself for it.”
Guy W agrees, saying, “When I get home, I don’t expect to get any serious work done at all for at least a couple of days. e.g., if I’m getting home on Tuesday morning, I’ll not plan anything until the earliest Thursday. Wednesday might be super productive, but it’s more likely to be a recovery day.”
Yvonne K says: “After the event, I need a vacation! I treat myself to quiet time to coop and recharge.”
Holger P says: “I need breaks to reset and rest after the event. And one day is not enough. So it should be at least 4 to 5 if not even seven days between two events.”
“What goes up must come down”
Nervous energy; caffeine and sugar; alcohol to help the social anxiety: they get you through the event, but come at a cost!
Annette L says: “What goes up must come down… anxious anticipation and anxious excitement at meeting new people cause a physiological reaction in my body (adrenaline). Adrenaline will always eventually crash and create a sleepy time effect.”
Tom M is prepared for the inevitable: “Hangover management is also really important. I have a tendency to guzzle my drinks when in unfamiliar social situations, and it's pretty much inevitable, so I focus on eating lots and hydrating beforehand rather than trying to avoid it. I also pack rehydration salts and paracetamol for the morning, so I don't ruin any sessions.”
Guy W is very sensible and sticks to the routine: “Budget time for your exercise routines and other support practices, as well as stick to whatever eating pattern works for you. It’s too easy to use sugar and caffeine to get short-term fixes to energy problems, but the bill comes due and it’s usually very expensive.”
Even if you feel tired after an event, getting some exercise might help you get back into your normal sleeping patterns and refresh your mind:
Annette L: “I now pre-book myself to begin with my trainer at the gym a few days after I get home, because left to my own devices my brain appears to cease to function after a travel conference and I will end up procrastinating getting back to it. If my exercise routine is pre-booked when I get back (with some rest days built in) I will slide back into better energy and life faster. I started lifting weights this past year – it's fab!”
Yvonne K suggests “figuring out ways to help your nervous system rest and help your mind process what you're being exposed to. This isn't just a mental stimulation, but a physical one too. You might have specific ways which help calm your nervous system, like walking, a massage, sitting in a botanical garden or a quiet church.”
Many contributors expressed that they enjoy going to events but accept that they are going to find them draining or harder work than it might appear for others.
Yasmine: “I just have to accept that I may not be able to do as much or see as much as others do, and focus my energy in ways that are more productive and rewarding for me instead. I don't have to do what everybody else is doing, or what everybody else expects me to do.”
Annette L: “Now I own it, book it, plan for it, and try to just not berate myself for it.”
Lucretia: “We've also come through a period where our nervous systems have been ramped up for an extended period and this has created all kinds of impacts for us. … Additionally, due to our extended isolations, we have got out of the practice of being sensitive and being around a lot of people – I would recommend a slow and steady reintegration approach to help manage this.”
However, don’t forget that almost everyone else could be finding these events a struggle too. You are certainly not alone.
Do you have any tips or recommendations for in-person events and conferences? Please share them in the comments.