Moving out of your pajamas and back to industry trade shows, events, and in-person training

Aug. 12, 2021
An introvert’s guide to re-socializing.

Are you nervous or apprehensive about going back to in-person events? I’m right there with you.

My last in-person industry event, MARCON, was the week of March 10, 2020, in Knoxville, Tennessee. Yes, that week—the week the pandemic became REAL.

Your Space

This article is part of our monthly Your Space column. Read more from our Your Space series.

I haven’t been on a plane in more than 18 months, much less in a room with hundreds of people. When comfortable in a situation, I’m talkative and extroverted. However, add discomfort or novelty, and I’m often quiet, awkward, and uncertain. So how can we introverts regain our comfort levels as we return to in-person events?

Leaving the pajama life

Forget being with large groups of people after more than a year; we have to wear real clothes again! With real clothes come face-to-face interactions and conversations. Digital tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and UberConference have been instrumental in keeping everyone connected during the pandemic.

However, in-person interactions offer a more authentic and superior experience. Even though we may be tired of staring at a screen and crave seeing each other, some of us dread the interaction and fear potential awkward silences when we just don’t know what to say.

Even before the pandemic, the world had become more aware of and sensitive to a person’s mental health. Anxiety and dread are emotions many of us experienced going into events pre-pandemic. For those with anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, these emotions are compounded by distorted thoughts and other problems that contribute to the discomfort of new(ish) situations and meeting new people.

After more than a year without in-person events (or much people time at all), many attendees’, exhibitors’, and presenters’ emotions will be multiplied. Remember, some people will be experiencing the same feelings and concerns that you are. Go into your next event exhibiting the same care and compassion you want to receive, and they will likely be reciprocated.

Leaping in

With much bravado, some colleagues are simply ready to dive in and get started with no reservations. That’s one way to face things. Remember, everyone experienced the pandemic. This was not a regional event. Ultimately, we should all understand and give each other the grace to be however we need to be.

If you don’t feel quite ready to leap in but must, lead with that conversation. Ask colleagues and event attendees how they feel. Give others the chance to express their feelings about group gatherings and how not being OK is OK. This just may be the best icebreaker question to begin conversations.


Without a plan, any apprehensions or problems will be exaggerated. If you are an attendee or an exhibitor, some of the planning is the same. Check out the schedule of presentations and technology talks. Note the topics you consider cannot-miss. Add these to your calendar.

Also, review the exhibitor list. While we all want to talk with and learn from end users, many engineers at exhibitor booths provide a wealth of knowledge. For some manufacturers, other exhibitors may be potential partners or customers. Prioritize a list of who you must see and who you’d like to see.

As an exhibitor, we develop our packing checklist and sales literature needs well before we need to ship our materials to a trade show or training session. One symptom of nerves or apprehension is to put off planning and committing. With all the cancellations in 2020, planning ahead was frustrating. However, having no plan can be frustrating and stressful.

Seeing our friends and colleagues soon

Every emotion and state of being are possible as we regather. We may be awkward, weird, eager, quiet, or exuberant. All these are to be expected. However, we all want life to get back to normal. The U.S. is trending in that direction. Attending events and trade shows is another stepping stone to leaving the pandemic behind us.

With thought, planning, deep breaths (maybe some yoga or a beer), and our colleagues, we will all make it through. Socializing is just like riding a bike: We will all eventually remember how to do it. And no, socks are not a good conversation topic.

This story originally appeared in the August 2021 issue of Plant Services. Subscribe to Plant Services here.

About the Author: Lori Ditoro

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