How effective is networking from a fetal position?
Yesterday I attended a networking event, if by “attended” you mean sat alone along the wall in a comfy chair with my arms wrapped around my legs.
After having no fewer than three people ask me if I was ok, I grabbed my book and read instead. To which a professory-looking man asked me if I was studying. “Nope, just reading!” I wouldn’t recommend this behavior per se, but my brother was manning a booth and I was stuck there.
Occasionally as I read my book amid the crowd, I heard a clank-clank and looked up to see a red cape swoop by. That was a teenager I know who was manning a booth for a high school robotics team I mentor. He had medals on his chest that the robotics team won, and every step made the medals clank into each other. Combine that with the bright red wizard cape he was wearing, and he made quite a dramatic character stomping around the event.
I pulled him aside and asked him if he realized how dramatic he was being. He said, “Oh yes, it’s my strategy to attract as much attention as possible so people become curious and come to our booth.” I went back to reading, and he went back to clanking around. The difference between us is not hard to see.
We introverts are different from the extroverts, and that’s just fine. Introverts bring balance to the loud and self-promoting culture we live in, and extroverts bring balance to those of us who sometimes choose to stay at home inside our head instead of going out and doing things in the physical world.
Thinking about the difference between introverts and extroverts caused me to switch the focus of this post on introverted networking. I was planning on writing about how to properly network as a young introvert, and had a bullet point outline with tips. But then I realized that in addition to being really boring, that type of post is not what we introverts need. There are always business gurus and extroverts who love to tell us how to act. But we’re just fine the way we are, thank you! We can be mysterious and charming in our silence. (I hope, at least.)
So instead of strategies about how we can fake extroversion, let’s celebrate introversion with some self-deprecating humor.
NOTE: If I met you at a networking event and are reading this post, please do not think that I never want to talk to you. I have met some cool people at networking events before. I am on the advisory board for one relating to women in technology, after all. Oh, the irony of life.
Places you may find an introvert at a networking event
Here are some real-life places where you can you find me and other introverts during biz events of hell. (Just kidding. Networking events aren't actually that bad, unless they are.)
In the bathroom
The introvert arrives at the event. (A milestone in itself.) As they walk towards the entrance of the networking room, the hum of a million human voices passionately describing how amazing their businesses are quickly escalates into a roar. The introvert enters the room, and quickly realizes that they have to pee. They skirt the wall until they’ve found the bathroom and walk inside. The sound recedes back into a hum, and the introvert sighs in relief.
Hiding behind a camera
Unfortunately for the introvert, society would come up with unpleasant reasons for extended bathroom use. So they exit after washing their face and fixing their hair, and they enter the fray. Thankfully, photography is a hobby of theirs, and years ago they realized that flitting around rooms taking pictures is an excellent and socially accepted reason to avoid conversation. They partake in this occupation for a few minutes until they make enough people uncomfortable by sticking the lens in strangers’ faces, and the introvert reluctantly stops.
Standing along a wall people gazing
At this point, the introvert decides that they really should talk to someone. So they stand along the wall in a corner and watch the crowd. They find someone they know, and start to walk towards them while racking their brain for a few small topic subjects, but someone else beats them to it. The acquaintance is stolen into a different conversation, and the introvert returns to the wall. This repeats a few times until a kind, extroverted, blessed soul finds the introvert and kindly introduces them to someone.
Smiling so much their face hurts
Hooray! The introvert is happy. They met someone new without actually having to walk up to a stranger. They decide that being introduced by someone else is the best way to go. They attempt small talk and smile broadly in attempt to seem sociable. Unfortunately, after a few conversations, the introvert’s face muscles get so tired from continuous smiling and talking that their face starts to hurt. They try to relax their face by not smiling as much, but fear that now they look angry.
Having conversations with people they should remember but don’t
A stranger calls the introvert by name, walks up, and starts asking the introvert about all their business ventures. The introvert carries the conversation commendably, considering that they have no idea who the person is. The introvert resolves to become better at remembering people, only to forget the stranger’s name as soon as they walk away.
Receiving handshake coaching
The introvert shakes someone’s hand, and manages to not miss. Success! But then the other person kindly gives an impromptu handshake coaching session, since the introvert’s handshake was apparently floppy. So the handshake is repeated multiple times until the other person gives up.
Another variant of this: If the introvert is manning a booth, someone may give them presentation tips on how to better explain the company they're representing. (True story.)
Making an ungraceful exit
One of the people who knows everyone is talking with the introvert, and soon many people join the conversation. The conversation now deviates into inside conversations between the new people, and the introvert isn’t following anything. The introvert even wonders if they’re violating some social standard by eavesdropping on other people’s conversations. So they just leave.
Attempting to stuff their face with class
Since they’ve had a few conversations, the introvert is tired and feels that they deserve a reward. They “excuse me,” “pardon,” and “sorry!” their way through the crowd to the food table. They get their plate of food and walk to the wall to eat. The food tastes good, but the introvert is so concerned with making sure that their eating style does not resemble a pig’s that eating the food ends up using more energy than is created by its nutrients.
By now, the introvert has 1) talked to people and 2) eaten food. They have done everything they came to do, and find no more reason to stay. However, they stay till the end anyway, because they feel like they should. But as soon as people start to leave, they beeline to the door, go straight to their car, and sing along to their favorite songs all the way home as step one of recuperation. The following steps include curling up under covers with Netflix and excessive snacking.