I’m hiding in a bathroom stall, distracting myself by checking my phone. Outside, dozens of high-energy, excited individuals are mixing, mingling, and having an all-around good time. I want to go out there. I want to be a part of the networking party. But I can’t quite bring myself to slip my phone (the adult’s security blanket) into my pocket, put a smile on my face, and just do it.
When asked later about where I disappeared to, I had an arsenal of excuses. I was tired, I wasn’t feeling well, I’m shy, I’m socially awkward.
All lies. Here’s the truth: I am an introvert and external stimulation is exhausting. Sometimes, instead of owning my introversion and being mindful of my limits, I freak out and hide, avoiding the situation altogether.
This is a terrible idea, of course. Introverts can be awesome at networking, and just because external stimulation can be exhausting doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. This doesn’t even necessarily have to be social stimulation, by the way. Everything from loud noises to bright lights to big crowds can leave you feeling completely drained. And guess what – in a conference or networking environment you’re likely to be presented with all of the above.
Sounds exhausting, right? Definitely bathroom stall-worthy.
But here’s the thing – networking doesn’t have to be a big, scary thing that sends introverts running for cover. In fact, over the years I’ve grown to love conferences, whether I’m attending, vending, or speaking. And I’m about as introverted as they come, testing at the extreme reaches of the scale, so if I can manage, anyone can.
I absolutely can’t wait for WITS ’16. I know I’ll be tired at the end, but the opportunity to meet so many amazing women is huge.
Are you an introvert who wants to totally rock networking? Here’s how:
1. Don’t pigeon-hole yourself
Social interaction is expensive for introverts, so energy needs to be spent well. But, just like treating yourself to a luxury vacation, the cost doesn’t have to be a negative thing. Networking may be energetically expensive, but it can also be valuable and fun.
Your thoughts determine your actions. It’s okay to be anxious about networking, but be careful about how you voice your anxieties. As soon as you say “I can’t” you create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I’ve found that many introverts mistakenly pigeon-hole themselves as “bad” at networking and other socially-demanding situations. This line of thinking sets you up for being uncomfortable. Instead, think about what you’re good at – what unique qualities you have to bring to the table.
Don’t let your introversion define what you can’t do. Being introverted isn’t a bad thing, it just requires mindfulness within high-energy environments.
2. Play to your strengths
Maybe the idea of networking makes you uneasy, but that doesn’t have to define your experience. I guarantee you there are other women who are just as jittery.
If you’re stuck for how to begin, play to your strengths. Talk about your passions and what really drives you to travel, blog, or begin your own business.
Saying “hello” is often the hardest part, but WITS is an environment full of women who want to get to know you. Go beyond the elevator speech and connect on a deeper level.
Speak from the heart and focus on what really matters to you. Before you know it, the stranger you said hello to might be your new best friend or business connection.
3. Listen deeply and come prepared
It takes two to network (or three, or four), and dialogue is where real connections are made. Listen to the people around you and try to find common ground that will allow you to dive deep into those meaningful conversations. If you can find something mutual to geek out about you’ll find the experience much more enjoyable.
Be prepared to answer questions, and come armed with the information you need (and business cards!), particularly if you’re talking to a company or brand. They may want some basic information about your blog or business that will help them decide whether you would work well together.
Listening deeply will not only help you figure out what others are looking for, but it will strengthen the connections that you will make with other women at WITS.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement, and sometimes that means that we forget to pay attention to what our body is telling us. If you find yourself beginning to feel worn down, pause for a moment and practice deep breathing.
If you’re not sure where to start, here’s how:
- Find a quiet place (like the Wanderful Pro Member Lounge or, heck, a bathroom stall) if you can.
- Inhale through your nose, as deeply as you can, for 8-10 seconds, until your lungs are completely full.
- Hold your breath for a count of 6-10, whatever feels most comfortable to you.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth for a count of ten.
This can take all of thirty seconds and it really does do wonders. Whenever I’m in a situation where I know I’ll be socializing for large stretches of time I make a point to practice deep breathing.
5. Recharge, refuel, and know when to call it quits
Since networking zaps so much of an introvert’s energy, it’s important to approach it in small, manageable chunks. Be confident, say hello, listen deeply, breathe, and, most importantly, know when you’ve reached your limits.
If you begin to feel too tired, don’t be afraid to bow out of a discussion and take a few minutes to simply be alone. You want to be at your best, not frazzled and exhausted. No one will blame you for taking some extra time for yourself.
The opportunities provided by WITS are nothing short of amazing, and everyone should be able to enjoy them – including introverts!
This post was written by WITS ’16 planning committee member Jessi Honard.