Even for the most social of attendees, the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity can be a nerve-jangling sensory overload.
For introverts—or anyone who just get understandably overwhelmed by a festival largely dedicated to nonstop networking—Cannes can quickly turn from a sunny Mediterranean escape to a gorgeous gulag of anxiety and annoyance.
Sure, you can go back to the solace of your apartment, but that’s not always a restful option either, and chances are you’ll soon feel guilty for wasting your company’s T&E dollars.
So Adweek has compiled a few tips to help the introverts and occasionally exhausted social gadflies alike enjoy Cannes as much as your Instagram followers think you do.
1. Schedule time to exercise in the mornings
If you’re a runner, I don’t have to tell you how head-clearing an enjoyable a run down the Croisette can be in the morning (which, in Cannes, qualifies as just about any hour before 11 a.m.).
But even for those of us who don’t identify as the outdoorsy type, an hour or so of morning exercise can make all the difference between enjoying your day at Cannes versus feeling like you just rolled aching out of bed and lobbed yourself right into the belly of the festival beast.
Check the schedule for official exercise opportunities, but ask around as well. Companies like Havas and Google often host yoga or other opportunities that aren’t on the official Cannes agenda.
The best thing about group exercise opportunities in the morning is that you’re technically being social, but no one has to talk to each other. And when you’re lying in shavasana, feeling the sun on your closed eyes and listening to the muddled sound of birds and multilingual conversations, you might actually remember that Cannes can be a pretty fantastic place to spend a weekday.
2. Actually spend time in the Palais
Unless they’re on stage, you won’t find too many Cannes Lions veterans in the Palais, the festival’s main venue for presentations and indoor activations. Most remain camped at their hotels or rented workspaces, letting the meetings come to them.
There are two big mistakes with that approach: For one, you miss the programming, which is often spectacular and unparalleled at any event you’re likely to attend in a given year. Inspiring talks, compelling case studies, emerging ideas that might change your whole approach to your job—it’s all there, and you just have to pick the right ones for you.
But the other mistake is that you miss the work. The Palais’ lower level is largely devoted to the work being considered for Lions, basically turning it into the MOMA for marketing nerds.
“Whether you’re an introvert or just need a respite from the overstimulation of Cannes,” says Tonise Paul, president and CEO of Energy BBDO, “head to the Palais, walk down the stairs, hop on a stool, slip on a set of headphones and immerse for an hour with an iPad loaded with case studies of the world’s most awarded work. Ahhhh.”
Ari Halper, chief creative officer of FCB New York, agrees this can be one of the most re-energizing ways to enjoy the festival.
“My advice would be to hit the Print and Outdoor early in the morning, right when it first opens,” Halper says. “Everyone sleeps in at Cannes until at least 11 a.m.—except the juries—so you’ll have the place to yourself.”
3. Going to an event? Show up early
Here’s one of the best pieces of advice for networking events: Show up early.
It’s a bit counterintuitive, since it can feel like you’re a bit more on display when you arrive during the relatively quieter opening minutes of a reception, dinner or party.
But here’s the thing: It takes a lot less effort to network when you’re early. The hosts are in welcoming mode, so they’ll likely come say hi and introduce you to others. And your fellow early arrivers will be happy to chat with anyone else so they’re not just milling about alone. Soon you’ll have met a dozen new contacts, and maybe even friends, without having to push outside your comfort zone at all.
Show up late, however, and we all know what you’ll find: Big crowds, long lines and clusters of conversationalists that can be hard to penetrate without feeling like you’re butting into a moment. Who wants to wait in line 20 minutes for the last dregs of a warm wine bottle and then barge into a group of strangers just to feel like you got something out of an event?
4. Meeting someone for a meal? Go inland
Most Cannes attendees stay pretty locked on the Croisette, the main beachside road and walking path that connects the Palais to major venues like the Carlton, Grand, Majestic and Martinez (bonus points to you frequent visitors who just got mental-map fatigue from the order in which I listed those).
The Croisette is great for people-watching and grabbing the occasional Nutella crepe to go. But it’s a lousy stretch for a lunch appointment (or any meetup, really) if you actually like to have conversations without feeling like you’re surrounded by hundreds of those businessmen you usually see shouting into their phones at the airport.
So go inland.
It doesn’t have to be far. Two to four blocks ought to do it. Just find a not-too-busy restaurant on a quiet street, order a bottle water and a bottle of wine, and make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to enjoy the conversation that ensues. (French meals, for those unaware, are languid and long-running affairs. Which is totally fine, unless you have somewhere to be at any time in the next 12 hours.)
At night, stroll the winding streets of Old Town and you’ll have plenty of options. Generally, the higher you go up the hill, the more authentic and mellow of a meal you’re going to have.
FCB’s Halper has even more specific advice on dining spots for the socially averse:
“There are some decent options right in Cannes that are either too small to get crowded or off most people’s radar because they are more tucked away,” he says. “La Table du Chef would be one of those smaller options, sporting about eight tables in total, so it’s a pretty safe, schmooz-free zone. Another solid option is Fred L’écallier. It’s a bit of a hike (which is kinda the point), located a ways past the marina on the opposite end of the Croisette from the Palais, past the Martinez.”
5. Good conference buddies make everything better
Cannes is, of course, a social experience, so you’re generally going to have a better time if you’re with other folks, even if you’re the type who doesn’t like to do the talking. But spending the whole week with coworkers is a bit of a waste and can prevent you from actually making new connections.
When you do meet someone new—at an event, waiting in line for a popular session, introduced by a mutual friend, etc.—don’t be shy about getting their contact info and saying that it’d be fun to meet up again during the festival. Many great and lasting friendships have begun this way.
Often, you each have access to events the other doesn’t, such as parties hosted by your company or lesser-known events that don’t make the rounds publicly. While it’s not always a popular option in the U.S., WhatsApp can be a lifesaver in Cannes thanks to how smoothly it connects people from different countries.
If you’re a true introvert, this tip may sound like the hardest one yet, but it’s 100 percent worth the (brief) effort and can create lifelong connections that will define Cannes in your memory for years to come.
6. Just breathe
Yes, it can be crowded. It can be hot. It can be loud and hectic and flat-out exhausting.
But it’s also one of the most beautiful places you’ll ever find a work conference, and just about every single person there has a fascinating story to tell.
So when it becomes too much, go for a walk in just about any direction. I recommend the end of the pier, past all the bustling yachts and loud conversations. There, the more sure-footed among you can hop out onto the large rocks, have a seat and look out at Cannes in one direction, the Mediterranean Sea in the other.
Don’t check your phone (you can take a picture before you head back), don’t think about where you need to be that day, and definitely don’t think about work.
Give a big sigh. Take your shoes off. Let your shoulders drop.
Just breathe. Enjoy that there are such places in the world and that you’re lucky enough to experience them—especially in the name of work.