I am a friendly person. I smile on a regular basis, chat with folks at the water cooler, and discuss the weather with people in elevators. Small get-togethers with close friends are my jam.
But drop me in a social gathering of more than about 5 other people and I’ll start acting like a social leper, wishing I had the option to walk across hot coals while stabbing my eyes out with sticks rather than suffering through trying to socialize with the room full of strangers.
At design industry drinkups, my solution used to be to grab a vodkatini and quickly drink it while I hid in the corner. I figured once I’d gotten one drink down, I could check off “socialize with others while at the event” from my list and flee the scene.
As a designer, this was problematic because I love networking with other designers and hearing about what they’re working on.
But a couple of years ago, I attended a conference panel session that changed everything for me from an event networking standpoint. I’d like to share the quick tips I learned that have worked especially well for me ever since—and not one involves a vodkatini.
Look for yourself in the crowd
The panelist recommended that you look around the room, find someone who looks as uncomfortable as you feel, and go talk to them.
“Find someone who looks as uncomfortable as you feel, and go talk to them.”
A session attendee raised his hand and asked, “But what if the person doesn’t want to talk, and they think I’m a weirdo for approaching them?”
The panelist’s answer:
“Think about it this way. One of 4 things will likely happen:
- The person is also an introvert and will be relieved and grateful to have someone to talk to
- The person is not an introvert, but will still chat and become a new professional connection
- The person will need to exit the scene and will excuse him or herself
- The person will be obnoxious and rude
In the event that number 4 happens, who cares? You don’t know this person. You’ll likely never have to speak to them ever again. You have nothing to lose.”
I’ve employed this advice at every single networking event I’ve attended since, and it’s always worked like a charm. I’ve even had several people thank me for rescuing them!
Use your social network to connect in real life
Post an update on LinkedIn and Twitter asking if anyone is at the event, and if so ask if they would like to link up for coffee/food/a between-session high-five. People are very receptive to this approach.
Meet in a public place, obviously, just in case the person is a designer by day/serial killer by night.
I did this at the last 2 conferences I attended and got a great response. I met several designers who I’ve stayed in touch with.
Don’t push yourself so hard that you burn out and don’t enjoy the event
Take a break when you need one. There’s no reason you need to spend every single waking second networking when you attend a conference. It’s okay to skip a session and go crash in your hotel room to recharge your social interaction battery every once in a while.
Being an introvert shouldn’t stop you from presenting
It took me years to take the plunge and present at a conference.
Why did I finally go for it? A friend told me it wasn’t fair to the community to keep all of my experiences to myself, when I could potentially make a positive impact on the work of others. That shove (or guilt trip, however you’d like to look at it) was the catalyst that got me to come out from behind my laptop.
“Being an introvert shouldn’t stop you from presenting.”
I still get really nervous and need to crash for about an hour after I present. In fact, after one particularly long session, I grabbed my lunch and legit went and hid in my car to blast some music and decompress.
Even though I feel pretty drained after presenting, I’ve started to enjoy speaking at events. Having people come up after the session to say that they can’t wait to employ the research method I presented, or to tell me that they believe the internal process flows I described will dramatically improve their inter-departmental relationships, makes it all worthwhile.
What I’m trying to say is this: Don’t count yourself out just because you’re an introvert. The things you know could really help other people in the industry.
This is me giving you the same shove/guilt trip my friend gave me. Get out there and share your knowledge!