12 September, 2006
No, extroverts, you don’t get to ignore this post. You should read this to understand many of your colleagues and to understand why they behave a bit different than you do at events like conferences.
Anyway, I’ve written about introversion so much that I almost need to put a new category for it. But, after attending two different conferences in two weeks, it’s been on my mind.
Really, conferences are the antithesis of the introvert. A large crowd of people getting together to party and talk. It can be very tiring for an introvert. Yet, they are necessary for business. Networking is essential in the game industry, so you really have to attend some conferences in order to further your career.
So, how can an introvert survive conferences? Let me share some of the tips I’ve accumulated over the years.
The first step is to read The Introvert Advantage, a book I have recommended many times before. For introverts, it helps you really understand why you react certain ways. Why are you so tired after a business lunch or dinner? Why do extroverts send you mixed signals? For extroverts, it helps you to understand introverts. Why are they so quiet? Why do they not look you in the eye while talking? Keep in mind that introverts are the minority in general, there are 3 extroverts for every 1 introvert. Of course, the game industry seems to attract quite a bit more introverts than normal, so you might encounter a higher concentration of introverts if they bother to attend a conference.
Remember that introversion does not mean that someone hates people; it means that they don’t get energized from interacting with other people like extroverts do. Instead, we get energized from quiet contemplation and internalization. The second thing to realize is that an introvert can learn to socialize like an extrovert. From what I understand, you’ll never get energy from extroverting, but you can make other extroverts feel more at ease. Also remember that introverts aren’t as spontaneous as extroverts are; face-to-face conversations do not play well to our strengths.
And for those of you that know me, yes, I am an introvert. I have just learned to extrovert well. I consider online interaction to be one of the secrets of my success. Interacting online gives you a chance to learn how to deal with people in a very non-threatening manner. Learn to strike up conversations with people, and practice being a bit more aggressive than you would be normally. Practice talking about small issues to warm up a conversation. The worst that can happen online is that someone might put you on the ignore list if you upset them.
According to The Introvert Advantage, introverts and extroverts are intended to work together. The extrovert is a person of action, but they tend to be impulsive. The introvert is the more thoughtful and should keep the extrovert from leaping before looking. On the other hand, the introvert generally needs to extrovert to pull them out of their endless thinking and considering, otherwise nothing will get done. Keep this dynamic in mind if you’re part of a company, it can help you achieve more.
At a conference, introverts should do what we do best: observe and synthesize. In a conversation, let the extroverts and other people talk while you listen and observe. Try to figure out the dynamics of the conversation and try to “read” the attitudes people have. Ideally, you should be in meetings with an extrovert who can handle the talking; a while after the conversation, you should exchange notes with the extrovert so that you both have a good idea of what is going on. When attending sessions, take notes to share with others later. We have the patience to listen to these lectures and pull out the important bits. Extroverts will love you for this.
Also remember that you don’t have infinite energy to interact with people. Find a quiet place away from the press of the crowds to sit for a moment if you start getting too overwhelmed and exhausted. Or, just go for a walk in a crowded hall and go with the flow while you internalize your thoughts. Try to avoid other extroverts that you know so you can have a bit of time to think. Even if you extrovert well, you are not an extrovert and you need your time away.
Plan to get a reasonable amount of sleep. I find that if I get too little sleep, I get very fuzzy in the head and I’m not able to function well. Extroverts can go out and party all night and still put on a happy face the next morning. I find that incredibly hard to do, even ignoring the fact that I’m not a morning person. I can go without a bit of sleep, but I can’t do that for an extended period of time. This is probably one of the hardest things to do, since a lot of business happens after the main conference at the parties, etc. Again, working with an extrovert can really help since he or she can attend the party while you go get some sleep.
You also need to keep in mind that social rules are different at conferences; they conform to extrovert expectations rather than introvert expectations. Don’t read too much into other people’s actions. Just because someone leaves abruptly does not necessarily mean they don’t want to be around you. They may have a meeting to attend, another person they have to greet, or they just might be tired. Also consider that other people generally expect extroverted behavior from you. Don’t be afraid to excuse yourself abruptly from a conversation if you have to be somewhere. And, don’t stick with someone too doggedly; introverts prefer to make deeper friendships with people, but extroverts can sometimes find introverts a bit annoying if they stick around too long. Of course, if you find another introvert you should adjust your expectations. But, keep in mind that they may be in “extrovert” mode and may act like an extrovert because it is expected at a conference.
Another tip is to follow up after a conference. Get the business cards of people you met and drop them a quick email after the fact. Introverts tend to prefer email since it allows for a bit more thoughtful exchange, so you are on your home turf here. Refer to a conversation or talk they gave and remind them who you were. Sometimes you can do a bit of business after the conference via email, so don’t be afraid to just collect contact info and follow up later.
(And, as an aside to extroverts: don’t expect us introverts to give you a call. We generally dislike talking on the phone since it’s much more spontaneous than we like to be. Communicate over email and you’ll get much more discussion out of us. This goes for all aspects of business, not just at conferences. Again, we prefer observation and synthesis, and get energy from internal contemplation. Give us an email so we can do that, and we’ll be happy. We promise we’ll call you eventually so you can do what you like to do. ;)
Finally, get involved! Don’t be afraid to get up and speak, or to submit a proposal to the conference. Take a few classes in public speaking and learn some techniques for being able to address a crowd of people. Some of us introverts may harbor fantasies that people will stumble upon our undeniable genius and reward us richly for it; unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case. Get out and do a bit of self-promotion to get known. It can take a lot of practice, but it is doable.
I hope this has helped some people understand a bit more about introversion. It’s not a handicap, but it is something to consider when in a highly social situation like a conference. Practice extroverting yourself, and be prepared to take a break if you get overwhelmed. Get a good amount of sleep as well. Be prepared to follow up after the conference, and don’t be afraid to get involved during the conference! People rarely spontaneously recognize genius, especially with the high noise to signal ratio in the industry these days.
Any other introverts out there have some tips? Or, any extroverts have questions or comments?