In August, I presented at the American Psychological Association Convention. It's a huge four-day affair held in a different city annually; this year it was in DC.
As always, the event was housed in a ginormous convention center with spillover programming in three nearby hotels. There were over 11,000 psychologists and graduate students in attendance.
You read that right - 11,000!!!!
My time in DC reminded me how draining and stressful navigating conferences can be. It's hard to travel, traverse a new city/venue, present, talk to strangers, and "be on" for days on end. Those last two - interacting with strangers and being "on" - are the most stressful for me. I can usually tap into the extroverted part of my personality for 24 hours...30 tops. Then it's all downhill. At the bottom of this slide is deep exhaustion and the overwhelming desire to hide in my hotel room under the covers.
Fortunately, I've learned a thing or two in my almost two decades (gulp) of conference travel. These strategies consistently keep my stress low and my energy and engagement high, even on the last day of a four-day convention. Here are my favorites.
1. Arrive at least one day before the conference starts, if funds permit. Don't spend the day buried in your PowerPoint presentation. Instead, use the time to acclimate to the space and relax. This gives you a reserve of energy you can tap once the conference starts.
2. Take regular breaks between sessions to keep focused and alert. Sitting in cold rooms listening to speaker after speaker can be mind-numbing, no matter the topic.
3. Talking about breaks, walk around the block. Walking increases focus, energy, and creativity. If the weather isn't cooperating, try deep breathing in your hotel room or sipping tea by a window. These activities are sure to get you back to center.
4. Reach out to other attendees you know PRIOR to the conference. Invite them for a meal or coffee. Social engagement has lots of stress-reducing properties. But do keep some meals free in case you need alone time or want to connect with new people.
5. Avoid the temptation to skimp on sleep. Make sure you get at least 8 hours nightly. Naps that are 20 minutes or less can also be refreshing.
Because I consistently used these strategies at APA, I was able to enjoy and engage fully in the best parts of the conference - interacting with old friends, meeting colleagues from around the world, and, best of all, learning about new research, practices, and policies.
I invite you to experiment with one or more of these strategies during your next convention. If you have other strategies that work, feel free to share them in the comments section.
In peace and solidarity,