In last week's article (find it here if you missed it), MidlifeUnstuck ran an experiment where one confirmed introvert (me) was made to do everything that the psychology research suggested she should to see if networking could be made comfortable for her. Then that introvert was thrown into a lion’s den filled with national journalists, PR gurus and 50 or so other business owners. Why?
Because I am old enough to know that even if you’ve been lucky enough to design your career to match your superpowers perfectly, there will always be elements that are key to your success which lie firmly outside of your comfort zone.
For example, I know photographers who detest doing accounts but like getting paid. I know fabulous finance people who hate doing stand-up presentations but do it weekly. I know brilliant but modest artists who can’t bear showing off their designs. And, I know of at least one career transformation coach who adores what she does but comes out in spots when any type of “networking event” is mentioned.
Typically introverts prioritise ANYTHING other than networking – it's our nemesis. After some intensive research on introverts, I discovered that there are a few key activities necessary for comfortable networking. These include: detailed preparation on the attendees; choosing a structured event design; alone time before and during the event and; setting expectations around fewer but deeper conversations than extroverts might expect.
My event (SOULFUL PR LIVE) involved meeting face-to-face with 8 national journalists, with opportunities to ask questions and even pitch the odd idea to them. It also involved a roomful of business owners, some of whom were confirmed introverts and others who appeared to be in their extroverted comfort zone.
So, how was the lion’s den? Did the research work? How comfortable was this introvert?
The detailed preparation meant that I had very low anxiety levels the night before and unexpectedly slept well. I strolled to my dawn train with time to spare avoiding the coffee shop in case I threw coffee over myself - sadly not as rare an occurrence as you might imagine. I’d planned to arrive at the smaller, pre-event breakfast meeting with plenty of time to freshen up before others arrived. A vision of Zen. Crucially, I’d have a chance to get to know people individually as they arrived as opposed to walking into a formed group. I had lived and breathed the advice from the research and was raring to go.
On the day
In actuality, my google maps had such a melt-down that I couldn’t work out where I was - perhaps something to do with an accidental paddle in my handbag with a bottle of Evian the previous day?
I had allocated one hour to do a 25 minute stroll from the tube station so hadn’t bothered to pick up any cash for emergency taxis etc. An hour and a half later, I arrived late having been guided by 5 separate, kind individuals pointing me towards Shoreditch. Who says London's not a friendly place? I’d grown a big frizzy hair bomb, developed a fashionable “dewy sheen” on my face and was wearing converse trainers rather than my beautiful, coral, confidence-giving shoes (see photo). All this without even a hint of caffeine and zero breakfast. Comfort levels – close to zero.
The 8/9 breakfasting ladies in a trendy café near the venue were presented with this big-haired, perspiring vision of panic. They responded with smiles and sympathy. After a few solitary moments in a darkened, cool loo and a gentle yet persuasive chat with myself in the mirror, I felt ready to start again. This time it was a whole different ballgame.
I had lots of fascinating one-to-one human interactions - the essence of totally comfortable networking for introverts. These were not banal interactions. They included:
fawning over wonderful hand-made pendants;
discussions about pigs who had passed away but had been central to marketing and life;
comparing the parenting styles of in-laws and;
viewing stunning photos of ethically-sourced children’s clothes.
Essentially, I felt like I was accessing behind-the-scenes stories that allowed this small group to connect in a way that would have been impossible on-line. On to the main event.
Walking into a room full of strangers, I forced myself to appreciate that I was also a stranger and made an effort to say “hello” and smile – just as my 6 year old had reminded me the previous night. I grabbed another shot of caffeine and choose a table with only one person on it thinking she might be receptive to a new friend. She was and we hit it off. She turned out to be one of the speakers and was open, funny and wise. More behind-the-scenes story telling. Comfort levels – sky high.
The pre-lunch personal meetings with the journalists was without a doubt a little “itchy” for the outed introvert in the room. Whilst I made eye contact and attempted to make them feel comfortable, this session was much less structured and therefore trickier to navigate. By the time I understood the lay of the land, I’d probably only asked one question and certainly didn’t feel comfortable enough to openly pitch an idea.
However, I watched in awe as more experienced business-owners batted pitches back and forth with these journalists with such ease. I’m not sure I made the most of that particular session but– at least I hadn’t imploded in front of them. Comfort levels – middle of the road.
Lunchtime brought another difficulty…who to talk to over lunch? Aaagh. Thankfully I met one of my top-5-people-I-must-meet-today list (Thank you to the research). She had previously also publicly outed herself as an introvert and secretly admitted to me that she had just allowed herself 6 minutes solitude in the loo. I was crippled with envy. Note to self...build that into my next event.
Thankfully, the afternoon involved watching a couple presentations which gave me time to just listen without pressure. The event came to a close. I exited like Cinderella at the end of her ball. I speed-walked to the loo, swapped my coral shoes for my converse trainers, then almost sprinted towards the exit leaving my lanyard and name badge strewn somewhere behind me. I breathed a sigh of relief but also joy. I had spent a whole day in conditions that extreme introverts might consider a nightmare. But, it had been exceedingly more comfortable than any other networking event I had ever attended.
I’d learned so much, made real human connections (which is the highest quality of networking… isn’t it?), shared some inspiring stories, discovered belly laughs amongst deep and meaningful conversations and built early foundations for new friendships.
Do I want to do this every day of the week? Hell no! Could I build this into a regular part of by business growth plan? Undoubtedly.
My conclusions are that comfortable networking requires more intensive planning for introverts than extraverts and that an event with the right degree of structure to satisfy the one-to-one interaction-loving introverts whilst still considering the social butterflying extroverts is the perfect mix. Thankfully at Soulful PR Live 2017, this was the case.
Would I do anything different next time? I might wear comfy shoes the whole day and stash some cash in my pocket…just in case Cinderella needed an escape carriage.
If you’d like to hear more about designing your career around your personality profile and unique strengths, please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a time to speak. If you are not quite ready or feel up to re-designing your own career by yourself, please sign up to my newsletter here for weekly articles for hints, tips, transformation stories to inspire you.