I went to a conference I my field for the first time in the last month. I have severe social anxiety but can usually hide it. I was there for learning and didn’t have a paper.
I expected some difficulties but there were more than I thought. I had my anxiety flare up when asking a question in a crowded Q&A and froze up, tried to finish anyway, probably ended up looking like I was clueless and trying to sound smart. The audience looked more concerned than disapproving, but I'm pretty sure that they would remember me if we met again, and that would reflect badly on me.
Many people at poster sessions didn't seem interested in discussing or answering questions, some acted like they did their presentation out of politeness only. I usually left and looked for something else when I realised that, but I wonder what made them react that way.
Overall, I'm questioning whether it's worth going to more conferences without having a paper to present. I did have interesting conversations with some people, some of them even suggested collaboration, but the experience as someone at non-PhD student level was overall just stressful. I didn't feel like I belonged there.
From a career point of view, would it be advisable to wait until I actually have a reason to go? Should I just seek advice for social anxiety and go anyway? I'm interested in networking and collaboration but this didn't seem like the right approach.