“I certainly have not the talent which some people possess, of conversing easily with those I have never seen before.” – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
I’ll be the first person to say it aloud, published for all to see: I don’t enjoy networking events. I dislike being crammed into a crowded space with tens (or hundreds) of people I don’t know at events where I’m expected to strike up a conversation on a whim. I don’t like big house parties or social events in general, which is where the obvious fact that I am an introvert living in an extroverted world suddenly has a very uncomfortable light shone on it. So these networking events… they tend to stress me out before I even get to them.
So how and why do I attend these events? As not only a department manager, but the only employee of my kind in Xtend, I know it’s important to get my face out there and meet with other department heads, credit union teams, and talk to other companies. Whether not it was required of me, I’d be asking to be included. In meeting with other people outside my organization, I get to step out of the box for a little bit. The brainstorming and comradery that come out of networking with other teams is so valuable that the discomfort that comes from the social anxiety fades away once I’m able to get a foothold in a conversation with others, so I truly do see the value in these events and am grateful they exist.
For me to be successful at these sorts of events, I have to do some planning and mental preparation in advance. First, depending on the size and length of the event, I block out the next one to three days after the event with no meetings and as little human interaction as possible in advance. I typically ask to work from home at least one of those days after the event. The night before the event I practice (if it involves any public speaking) and make sure everything is ready to go the next day. The day of, I do my best to avoid caffeine, and find a familiar face to get my bearings and let them take on the task of introducing me to at least one other person before I flit to the next familiar face in the crowd. I do my best to keep each group I talk to relatively small so I can avoid that “shut down” feeling and make the most out of every interaction.
All of this being said about larger networking events: I shine in 1-on-1 interactions. I have no problem talking to one person for hours if it’s required, and no problem listening either. The moment I’m in a group of 4 or more people, it’s as though this invisible wall is put up, I’m overwhelmed by everyone else’s energy, and my personality shuts down. Don’t mistake this for fear: it’s quite literally being overstimulated. I’m not afraid of people, and I don’t hate the world and all the people in it. That’s not what being an introvert means. For me, it means I want my social interactions to be meaningful, strengthen or develop the relationship in some way, and I enjoy quiet more than most people. I’m constantly chasing the ability to find a few quiet moments in my day to restore some spiritual, emotional, and mental energy, and being in crowds drains this.
I take up the opportunity to meet one-on-one with clients and colleagues whenever it’s welcomed. I’ll drive over to a credit union and meet with a marketing rep to discuss initiatives and strategic initiatives without hesitation. I’ll grab lunch with a colleague or a client just as fast, and I love the chance to even just have a one-on-one brainstorming session. Networking isn’t something as a whole that I despise – I just wish it was easier to do it at a smaller scale more often than not.
It’s not easy to network as an introvert, and some of what I do may sound overkill to others who don’t feel drained after these events. I think it’s hard to imagine what it feels like to be someone who is sensitive to outside energy if we’re not in that position, just like I find it hard to imagine thriving in that sort of environment and wanting to seek it out. There are moments in these networking events where I even start to doubt why I do what I do, and then I remember that my position is tailored to introversion most of the time and being a self-starter who needs little outside reinforcement is a quiet strength those I do get to know eventually see. You don’t have to be an extrovert to survive and even thrive if you’re in a position where you must attend events like these or help co-host them. Just know yourself, communicate with your team what you will need, and plan ahead, and you should be set for success.