When you’re in a relationship business (a.k.a all creative industries), it behooves you be extroverted, to network and engage with as many people as possible. But what if you’re not an extrovert? You still have to go to that conference…
I left my introverted engineering world to dive right into the entertainment industry in 2018. It’s been an adjustment, but here’s how I survive the endless networking events.
Try to avoid booking anything too socially involved in the days leading up to the big day. Clear your social calendar as much as possible for these few days. You’d be wise not to attend another conference back-to-back. I also prefer to fly in the night before so I can have some alone time to recover from the plane ride. Recharge before the event. You’re an introvert so this probably comes naturally.
Schedule your “me time” strategically
Some of the best opportunities to network happen in between sessions: breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks. We introverts often fail to make the most of them.
If you need some alone time before you start your day, make sure to factor that in BEFORE breakfast. If you’re staying at the hotel where the event is held, breakfast is a great place to network in a relaxed environment. You want to have had your mental prep/ me time before breakfast so you can start the day ready to mingle. Find those name-tagged faces and introduce yourself!
Similarly, if you want to have enough energy to go the mixer after the day’s activities, make sure to schedule some alone time between lunch and the evening mixer so that you can reset your inner interaction quota. I still haven’t made it to evening mixers, but I will try at the next TAXI Road Rally…
Especially for longer conferences, you might find your energy level quickly hitting the “please don’t talk to me” red zone despite your best attempts to switch on your extrovert button. If that sounds familiar, maybe you’ll want to take it easy and not try to outdo yourself on the first day and be burned out for the rest of the conference. If going to the evening mixer will drain you out for the next day, maybe you should skip it after all.
Know your limits, and gamify
After a recent networking event I attended, I realized that the average number of strangers I can enthusiastically approach at an event tends to be around 7. After that, it takes me a lot of effort to go and say hi to someone. One thing I’m going to do at the next event is to try and beat that.
Remember that it’s okay if you don’t attend everything and talk to everyone. That would be so horribly overwhelming you’d probably go home feeling drained and unsuccessful. It’s better to make a few meaningful connections than none. The idea isn’t to make you an extrovert, but to use your energy wisely as an introvert in an overstimulating environment.
Eliminate excuses and obstacles
Since interacting with people drains us, we’re pretty good at finding excuses not to. Here are some common things we do instead of networking:
We get overwhelmed by the crowd and noise and decide to keep ourselves busy with our phones instead.
- Make it a point to introduce yourself to the people on your right and left before you’re allowed to check your phone!
We get overwhelmed by the packed schedule so we use precious time pick what sessions we’re going to next instead.
- Large conferences will be overwhelming. Try to do most of the energy-intensive tasks beforehand so your sole focus at the conference is learning and meeting people. Remember, that’s what you’re here for.
- Be sure to pick your sessions the night before. Planning your day ahead of time.
- Highlight any speakers/panelists you should talk to in person.
- Give yourself a checklist of names that is manageable but also slightly challenging. It can help you push through multi-day events. You won’t have to think about who to talk to, you’ll just have to find them and check off your task.
REMEMBER: The less energy you need to spend deciding on where to go/who to talk to/ whether it’s worth the effort, the more energy you have left to network.
We stick with our favorite introvert friend the entire time instead.
- Split up with your buddy and go to different workshops/panels.
- Or at least sit on different sides of the same room.
- Go with an extroverted friend who naturally works the room and talks to everyone.
BONUS: Go in to nurture existing relationships
After I published the article, my friend Jen from The Brassy Broadcast suggested a genius introvert strategy: meeting people who are already your online friends (via FB, IG etc) at conferences. She spends the conference nurturing those online relationships face-to-face, rather than trying to meet new people. This is a terrific strategy for introverts: less small talk and less strangers!
So make friends with your community online, and then go meet them in person at the conference. The conversations will be so much more meaningful!
What if I have nothing to say?
The most dreaded question that little voice in our head loves to ask. This only applies if you’re shy. Not all introverts are shy, but if you are, here are a few ideas.
- Hi, I’m [YOUR NAME]. How is your day going? Is it your first time here? What kind of music do you do?
- If you talk to people right after a keynote or panel, ask them what they thought of it.
- If you’re talking to the speaker, tell them what really resonated with you.
- If you’re waiting in line at registration, just ask them about themselves. If they’re extroverts, you’re in luck. They’ll do all the talking and leave the conversation thinking you’re a great listener! Make notes so you can refer back to what they said later on.
- Really can’t think of anything? Pre-compile a few random but interesting questions you could ask anybody. Preferably pick a topic you enjoy.
- Similarly, you could pre-compile some interesting news items that you read recently that could be of interest to the audience of this conference.
What are your introvert strategies for networking?
That’s all I got! Let me know in the comments if you have further suggestions for introverts trying to navigate the extrovert world.