Surviving Conferences as an Introvert

I just spent an amazing week at Salesforce Connections. I’ve been to (and spoken at) Connections several times over the years, in addition to many other conferences. This one was a little different. Salesforce asked me to be interviewed about Women of Email during the keynote, and they presented me with the Trailblazer Golden Hoodie while I was onstage. If you didn’t know…. this is A. Thing.

connections

People who only know me from Twitter and seeing me onstage probably think I’m more outgoing than I actually am. But the truth is – while I love and thrive on being surrounded by other #emailgeeks, it doesn’t change the fact that I find crowds, noise and small talk incredibly overwhelming. I do much better in small groups of people I have something in common with. That’s one of the things I like about meeting people at email events – we can skip right past the “what’s email marketing?” part of the conversation and get straight to the good stuff.

There’s a certain rush to being on stage and talking about something you’re passionate about. I’ve been fortunate to get to do it a lot. But for the hour or two after I get off stage (and after I’ve answered questions to the inevitable line of people who run up to me after the session ends), I usually need to go hide in the speakers lounge, and catch up on any tweets that came through while I was on stage, get my heart rate down, drink some tea, and just breathe. It’s an adrenaline rush, but I can’t keep it up all day. I need time to get back to normal. So if you see me beelining in the direction of the speakers lounge–or bathroom– after I’m on stage, please let me go. You can find me later, or connect on Twitter. I’m much more fun to talk to when I’ve had a chance to recharge, I promise.

Since I’ve been to so many conferences as a speaker and as an attendee (and introvert), I’ve developed some survival skills I think might be helpful for other people like me, whether you’re attending to learn about email or being featured on the keynote.

  1. Take it all in, but focus your time on the things that are important to you

Look at the schedule in advance and pick/register for sessions you want to go to. At the larger events, they may fill up fast. When I’m attending a conference, I gravitate toward the more hands-on sessions that’ll help me use technology I need for my job. I also really like seeing case studies of people doing interesting things that I want to do.

Conferences are about networking, and sometimes it’s more beneficial to spend an hour talking to someone who has a job similar to yours than it is to attend every session. Email jobs are weird, and at times it can feel like you’re the only one who knows what you’re going through. But not at email conferences. You meet other people who have done the same work, and may have found solutions to technical problems you never would have thought of. And many of them are more than willing to talk about it. Find those people. It may mean talking to a lot of people to find the one, which can be hard as an introvert. You also sometimes run the risk of getting stuck in a boring conversation. If you’re bored or just want to end a conversation, it’s always okay to say, “It’s been so great talking to you, but I’ve got to run to [a meeting, a session, a work call, whatever]. Let’s connect on Linkedin. Here’s my card.” You don’t have to sit there and pretend to listen to a sales pitch you’re not interested in. It’s better for everyone involved if you don’t, because then the other person can move on to other people who might actually be interested.

2. There are lots of different ways to connect with people.

Are you overwhelmed with requests to meet up? Get creative! You don’t have to go for a drink or a meal with everyone, and you don’t need to book up every single night for socializing and networking (but if that’s your thing – go for it). It’s also okay to decline meeting with people if you don’t want to or don’t have time. Everyone knows that conferences get busy. They’ll understand.

I’ve had conferences where there were a lot of people I knew who wanted to meet and catch up, but I was booked solid. So I got creative – one time I had 45 minutes between sessions, and really wanted to get Starbucks, but that was the only window of time I could catch up with a friend. The Starbucks line was extremely long and would’ve taken most of the 45 minutes. So the friend and I caught up while we were waiting in line, then just brought our lattes to our next sessions.

Another way to spend time with people you want to see is to plan to attend sessions together. There’s usually some downtime waiting in line or waiting for the session to start once you sit down. That’s a great time to catch up with someone. And then as a bonus – after the session, you have something new to talk about with them. Another benefit of that is that there are clear starting and ending points to the time, so you’re less likely to have someone monopolize your entire day.

3. Self care is important.

Conferences can be tough. You’re traveling, walking a lot more than you normally might, and you might be in a totally different time zone. I struggle with anything on the west coast because I wake up at 4 AM and have trouble sleeping. And while in many cases, you’ll be fed well with fancy dinners and cocktail parties and free boxed lunches, the overindulgence can leave you feeling terrible physically.

My advice there is: do what you need to do to take care of yourself. For me, that means making sure that I’m eating fruit and yogurt at breakfast instead of sugary pastries (even if they look amazing), and I try to pick the salad option for lunch if I can. Carry a water bottle and refill it constantly. If working out makes you feel normal and happy – work out at your hotel gym, or sign up for a boutique class where you are.

This next one is a personal choice that I’ve made, and I recognize that it might not work for everyone – but I don’t drink at conferences, events, or much at all in general. I don’t actually enjoy alcohol, and my body usually reacts badly when alcohol is paired with sleep deprivation, fancy meals, and exhaustion. At events, I’m usually sipping a seltzer with lime or maybe a ginger ale or a water. When I stopped drinking at events, I thought I would need an excuse or explanation about it, but it turns out — I don’t. Hopefully, most people will be understanding and not try to pressure you into drinking if you don’t want to, especially in professional situations. There are a million reasons why someone would choose not to drink, and people should respect that. The few times people have given me a hard time about it or offered me drinks multiple times, I’ve demurred with a simple “I’m speaking tomorrow morning and don’t want to be hungover,” “Medical reasons,” or an even simpler “No thank you.” Anyone who keeps pushing after that is being a jerk.

Another form of self care at conferences is knowing yourself and choosing to spend your evenings how you want to. Depending on your role, there may be some unavoidable dinners or meetings, but it’s completely okay to decline parties. I do it all the time, and make plans (even if the plans are only with myself) to do something else I’d rather do. I know that after a long day of walking around and talking all day, I might not feel up to going to a party (where the main activity is…drinking) or a concert (where I likely don’t even know the band). If you would prefer to spend the evening in your hotel room Skyping with your family and ordering room service – do that. A few years ago I started packing a Sephora sheet mask and a Lush bath bomb when I go on work trips, and treating myself to a relaxing evening after a long day. If you are open to doing something – it doesn’t have to be the official events. Meet up with a friend who lives in town, go see a local museum or theatre production, or get some retail therapy if you want. I bought a Hamilton ticket for this week and got to spend three hours quietly enjoying one of the best musicals of all time instead of yelling over loud music. That worked perfectly for me.

4. My last piece of advice? Do it again every chance you get.

Conferences are a valuable tool for your career. I would not be where I am professionally without them. I’ve met people, learned about email technology and strategy, gained confidence as a speaker, and traveled to cities I probably never would have otherwise. It can be stressful and exhausting, but it’s usually worth it.

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On my honor, I will try…

After a very much needed almost 3 month hiatus, I’m happy to announce that I’ve accepted a full-time job at Girl Scouts of the USA as their Senior Email Marketing Specialist. I’ll be spending my time helping to standardize their email programs across 112 councils all over the country, writing documentation, educating marketing teams about email best practices, and being their go-to person for my favorite ESP.  While it’s obviously very much still in the email world, it’s taking a step away from mass producing emails every day, and it’s exactly what I want to be doing. I start next month, and I’m extremely excited about it! In all of the years that I’ve worked in marketing in various industries, I’ve learned that I’m much happier when I’m marketing a product or service that I genuinely believe in and care about. While that’s not possible for every job and every company, I’ve found that it’s something I need to be successful and happy in a job. That’s why I’m absolutely positive that this is the perfect fit for me. GS VestsI’ve been involved with Girl Scouts since I was 5. I started Daisies when I was in pre-school, then I continued through Brownies and Juniors over the next 7 years. I remember making a point to sell 350 boxes of cookies one year so that I could go to a 13-day horseback riding camp for free. I loved being a Girl Scout. My mom was our troop leader, and most of my happy memories from when I was that age have to do with Girl Scouts. In the summers when I was a kid, I’d spend hours reading and re-reading my Girl Scout handbook, looking for fun craft projects to do and badges to work on. Twenty years and a bazillion moves later, I still have both of my uniform vests. In the last few years, living in NYC and not knowing any girls here, my involvement had been reduced to buying a lot of cookies (often online, pre-Digital Cookie, from friends in other states who have kids) and liking and sharing social media content. And, of course, being a Girl Scout cookie bakery hipster (according to my brother. I prefer “expert.”). Anyway, I’m really excited that my job is going to be with an organization that’s very near and dear to me. Plus, you know, there will be cookies. If you haven’t heard about it yet, Girl Scouts are making great strides in advancing their programming along with technology. With the recently launched Digital Cookie program, girls can create their own websites to sell cookies, allow customers to pay with a credit card, and sell cookies via an app. After working in techy startups the last few years, and seeing how underrepresented women are in the tech world – I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to have the opportunity to contribute to a program that will get girls interested in tech and digital marketing at an early age. troop3508 I’ll start the job in late March. I’ll be spending the next few weeks wrapping up some freelance projects, going on a vacation with good friends, shopping for professional clothes, and trying to teach myself how to organize an Outlook email account at the same level of OCD that I take with my Gmail accounts. (Any tips on that, pretty please? I haven’t used Outlook in a while.) The break that I’ve taken the last few months was an excellent choice for me. I knew I was burnt out and needed to take some time off, but I didn’t know just how badly I needed it until a few weeks in, when I was finally able to stop feeling guilty when I felt like spending an afternoon relaxing instead of trying to figure out my next professional move. But it also helped me realize that I actually really do enjoy working. I get more satisfaction out of doing something productive than watching five seasons of Friends on Netflix (but I’ve also learned to accept that it’s okay to sometimes count finishing a season of a show or clearing out a Tivo queue as “productive”). Re-charging is important and necessary in order to continue to do actual work, and sometimes we all need to take a moment and acknowledge that. I’m so happy that I’ve found a work environment that offers the level of balance that’s been missing from my professional life for a while and projects that I can’t wait to dive into. It’s been fun hibernating this winter, but now I’m refreshed, relaxed, and completely ready to go back to work full-time… in a few weeks.

The latest trend in email marketing

…is leaving your email marketing job. Or even leaving email entirely.

This past year, I’ve read emails and blog posts from a few well-known email marketers who have decided to leave their awesome jobs and take a break from email for a while. I’m currently in the middle of the Email Insiders Summit, and there’s definitely talk of lots of people switching companies or leaving their email jobs.

It’s not totally shocking news. As much as we all love email marketing, it does cause a lot of anxiety. It’s easy to get really burnt out, really quickly.

And that’s why I’m joining the ranks of people taking a break.

While I’ve loved email for my entire career (and still do very much),  it’s time for me to take a step away for a few weeks. At the end of the next week, I’m leaving my job at Food52 to do…something else. TBD.

So, why?

Lots of reasons, many of which have nothing to do with my current job. I never expected to fall into email marketing as a career. I went to college to be a stage manager for theatre. But I graduated in a very difficult job market, and took the first marketing coordinator job I could get. I learned that email marketing 1) existed and 2) was something I really wanted to do. So I did it. The first few years were in B2B, which certainly has its own challenges for email. But I fell madly in love with this new career option that combined copywriting, coding, creativity, psychology, and analytics. Then, after I moved to NYC a little over 4 years ago, I discovered the joy of B2C email marketing. Suddenly I could attach a real dollar amount of value that my work brought to my company, and that was really exciting – at first.

But that came with a cost. I was responsible for making sure that my emails made money. Online retail brands really depend on email for revenue, and I’ve had to send a lot more emails than I’ve ever wanted to send. As a consumer, I actually barely read promotional emails (but as an email marketer, I read ALL OF THEM).  I’d rather get fewer emails that were really, really good, than daily emails that weren’t. As an email marketer, that’s what I want to send. I think that’s what most email marketers want to send. The trouble is, email marketers work with other digital marketers. And product managers. And CMOs and CEOs who don’t understand email and think the “send” button is a magic bullet that prints money, and it can be pressed constantly.

For my last two jobs, I was hired to be the one person running email. While my background and interviews indicated that I was hired to do strategy and day-to-day email operations, in both cases, my role ended up being a very busy hybrid of producing emails, managing ESP transitions, educating co-workers about email, arguing with designers about whether emails should be built as images or hard coded, and figuring out that whole responsive design thing. There was no time for strategy or advancing myself as an email marketer. I couldn’t often leave for conferences (or vacation days…), because someone had to be there to send the emails, and I was the only person who knew how. Working at startups can be exciting, but in both jobs, I found myself in a position where I was both overwhelmed by the sheer volume of my work, and completely bored with it at the same time. Since there was no one who knew more about email than me to challenge me to do more, I wasn’t really growing as much as I wanted to – I was just trying to get everyone to a level where we could work on emails together.

In both jobs, however, I was able to build up email teams. I have taught several junior level people a ton about email, and they’re now self-sufficient email marketers who are capable of running email for high-volume  brands, (gasp!) without my help. I’ve educated a lot of designers about why we can’t just make an email one large image, and I’ve taught front-end developers how coding email is different than coding for the web. And I discovered I really like teaching people about email. In fact, I’m developing an Intro to Email class for General Assembly in NYC, and in January, I’m going to teach more people about email. Anyone who has met me at an email event or conference, or has worked with me in the last few years, or follows me on Twitter, knows that I get really excited when I talk about email.

When I left Warby Parker, the social media team put this up on their daily white board. My geeky ExactTarget fangirl behavior was a running joke in the office, and for good reason.

A proper goodbye and great honor from the @warbyparker social media team

A post shared by Kristin Bond (@kristinmbond) on

Like I mentioned above, there were other factors in my decision. I’ve lived in NYC about four and a half years, and – it’s exhausting. I had wanted to live here my entire life, and I really did love it – at first.  But startups have long hours. I have a long commute. Pair that with smart phones becoming a lot more common in the last few years, and I feel like I’m ALWAYS working (or at least on call).I never have time to actually enjoy living in the city. Many of my co-workers in recent years are exhilarated by this kind of life, and thrive on it. They love having a fast-paced, open office setting. To that, I’m going to have to quote Amy Poehler, “Good for you, not for me.”  In the past few years, I’ve learned a lot about myself and what kinds of work environments I thrive in, and it turns out, “fast-spaced scrappy start-up” isn’t one of them.

So what’s next?

The solution I came up with was to press “pause” for a little bit, and regroup. I’ve taken VERY little time off over the last few years, and my plan is to spend the next few weeks recharging and planning my next steps. I’m going to enjoy spending the holidays with my family and actually be fully present, without having to worry about whether an email is converting enough, or if the customers received their e-Gift cards. And then I’ll look for something else to do. I don’t want to jump into another startup that leaves me just as burnt out as the others, and find myself frustrated, exhausted, and wanting to leave after a few years or even a few months. I want to work with other people who are as passionate about email as I am, and who are better at email than I am.  I want to help other people become as passionate about email as I am, and I don’t want to resent my workload so much that I feel less passionate about email. For now, I’m going to focus on finding something that balances my passion for email with my need for work/life balance. I’m going to keep my options open. And I can’t wait.