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10 Tips for for Attending a Psychology Conference Alone (and Having a Good Time)

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As the founder of Psychreg, I not only publish contents but I also organise events. In fact, this coming 31st October–2nd November 2019, I will be hosting the 2nd International Conference in Psychology, Counselling and Education (ICPCE 2019) to be held at Universiti Malaysia Sabah in Kota Kinabalu. 

While I was a university student, I always became excited when my professor sent me to a conference because it meant visiting a new city, meeting new people, and trying out new food – and of course the fresh insights I will gain. 

But as I aged into my 30s, and as I become a conference organiser, the excitement of attending conferences petered out. That positive feeling was replaced with obligation, anxiety, and travel fatigue. 

On a good note, after hundreds of conferences I have been to, I gradually discovered some ways to deal with all those negative feelings associated with attending a conference – especially when you’re attending on your own. 

Realise that other people are also on their own and might also be shy

As an introvert, it can be  scary walking up to strangers and striking a conversation. But as a conference organiser, I also know that I have to come out of my comfort zone to talk with people at events. Inspired from the tip to ‘imagine the audience naked’ for conquering a fear of public speaking, I consider that other people are shy too – not naked. This thinking can put me at ease.

Don’t aim to talk to everyone

Crowds can drain energy from introverts. That’s why they’ll spend less time at an event and need to make the most of every conversation. Take it easy. No one is expecting you to talk to everyone. Also, you don’t have to collect 300 business cards; just aim to make at least one friend.

Dress professional and with confidence

Attending an event (conference or otherwise) can be exhausting. Wear clothes that are both comfortable and can radiate confidence. Shoes are particularly important because you may have to stand and walk a lot during a conference, especially during receptions or networking sessions.

Don’t eat on your own

If the conference provides food, don’t be the first one standing in line for lunch or snack, no matter how hungry you are. Queuing gives you a chance to talk with people for at least 5–10 minutes. If you’re able to hit it off with your queue buddy, you can continue sitting together throughout the entire meal to build a deeper connection.

Look for opportunities beyond the actual event

Instead of working in a room full of people, introverts might be more comfortable to get involved on the planning side. Ahead of the conference, you may contact the organiser if there’s something that you could help them out. Through this, you will have an opportunity to meet plenty of incoming attendees and can quickly ask for business cards, which can open the door for a future meeting.

Ask questions

You can let the extroverts do the talking and instead do what you’re usually good at: listening. Bring in some interesting questions, such as: ‘How did you get started in your research?’ or ‘What kind of projects are you working on right now?’. The key thing is to be genuine. Have an interest in what the other person is saying.

Treat yourself

Networking can be exhausting, especially if you have to travel to attend the conference. So pamper yourself with a little reward for your hard work. Temporarily pause your weight loss plan and eat some cake. After all, the conference is only a few days.

Do your homework

Taking the courage to walk to people is only the first step; you also need to know what to talk about to keep the conversation going. As a blog geek, I really do not know much else to keep the conversation going besides speaking of my own field of blogging. So what do you talk about after asking about the weather? This is where you have to do some homework first. Do you know any history on the conference venue or location? Do you have any interesting stories about the speakers? Do you know of any good restaurants nearby? Good conversation starters will require some research. 

If at all possible, take on a volunteer opportunity or two

You can do so much better – and make authentic vs superficial connections – when you’re being useful vs being forced to make small talk. Asking the organisers if they need an extra hand will certainly go a long way.

Follow-up after the conference

Another thing I used to do poorly is following-up after the conference. Post-conference follow-ups can help summarise the conversations you and your connections at the conference had and kick-off some action plan. At a minimal level, it provides you another chance to get the other person to know more about you and be impressed by how organised you are.

Dennis Relojo-Howell is the founder of Psychreg. He is also the editor-in-chief of Psychreg Journal Psychology, and writes a weekly column for Free Malaysia Today


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