Most people think I’m an extrovert. They assume that my ability to connect with people on a personal basis means that I enjoy being in big groups. They conclude that my extroverted tendency is partially responsible for my professional success.
I have news for you. I absolutely dread the vast majority of social settings. I’m a social misfit in many ways. Networking events are my worst nightmare. Conferences are almost as bad.
I’m simply not cut out to be with a bunch of people I don’t know. It drains me and takes all of my energy to show up, never mind go up and introduce myself to someone I don’t know. Frankly, it embarrasses me that I don’t have the social gifts that many others in my position have developed.
But I’ve had to learn to fight through it. While I still struggle, here are a few tricks that I’ve learned over the years that I hope can help others who struggle as I do.
Look for others just like you.
One of the easiest ways for me to get past my fear of being alone in a group that I don’t know is to trick myself into thinking about others instead of myself. Whenever I get uneasy, I scan the room for others that look just as, if not more, uncomfortable than I am.
There’s typically at least one other person who is circling the room, standing alone, or camped out by themselves. If I can spot that person and observe their quirks, I can quickly convince myself that I’m doing them a favor by introducing myself. That person is typically just as relieved as I am to meet a friendly face and engage in a conversation.
Have others introduce themselves to you.
A few years ago I attended a networking event that I actually enjoyed. Instead of collecting two business cards as I usually do, I collected 17. Instead of feeling out of place all night, I had enjoyed many meaningful conversations. As I drove away, I couldn’t help but question why this, of all events, was different from most.
And then it hit me. For whatever reason, people were seeking me out. I stood in one place the entire night and person after person came up and introduced themselves to me.
My introversion is not about not liking people or not wanting to have conversations, it’s about not having the energy and confidence to proactively insert myself into conversations and introduce myself to an unknown person. If I can find ways to have others seek me out, my group activities can become a lot more enjoyable.
Bring others along with you.
Last year I went to the Platform Conference in Dallas, Texas. The content was incredibly valuable, the event was top-notch, but I missed out on a big part of the value. While there seemed to be more than a handful of great people, I simply didn’t have it within me to introduce myself and build relationships. I missed out.
This year I’m going back – and I’m determined to make the most of my experience. I have already convinced six guests to join me and I’m still recruiting. By bringing others with me, I will feel more comfortable in those awkward, alone moments. I will have someone to go seek out. I will have a friend in the audience that can help calm my nerves. I will have others with me who will help introduce me to people that I should get to know.
Do you struggle with being an introvert in an extroverted world? What techniques have you used to overcome your introversion?