It's sometimes easy to feel that our world favours those who are more extroverted, that we need to be outgoing and gregarious to succeed in the workplace and in our social lives. Susan Cain's book, The Quiet Power of Introverts seeks to bring back some balance into our thinking and appreciation of the introverted disposition. You can also watch her TED talk here:
The key feature that makes us either an introvert isn't the job we do or the number of friends we have; it's where we draw our energy from. Extroverts find company stimulating and energizing. They'll feel less energized if they're forced to spend time alone. Introverts, on the other hand, find their energy from being alone. This doesn't mean we don't like going out or won't enjoy a social gathering. But, our energy will be depleted by those events and we then need time to recharge alone, quietly.
Before I even learned about her book, I was acutely aware of this introverted/extroverted friction. You see, I've always categorized myself as an introvert, which may seem at odds with my industry -- after all PR is about being "out there" a whole lot. And I do host and attend large events, red carpets and work in a bustling office.
Yesterday, I spoke at a Women of Influence event about networking. At first glance, it may appear that networking is yet another area that's simply easier for those who are extroverted...that it comes more easily for the hyper-gregarious. But I don't think that's necessarily true. Here are some ways I think introverts can successfully network (perhaps even better than extroverts!)
(1) Cultivating deep one-on-one relationships
OK, so an introvert isn't going to be the person grandstanding at the centre of a room, but they definitely can hold a deep one-on-one conversation. Nurturing these kinds of relationships is really the hallmark of how I approach my business. I don't seek to dazzle an entire room, but hone in on those people with whom I have an authentic connection.
While introverts find it hard to be immediately outgoing, we're often good at observing and listening to others. And when you're looking to make like-minded connections, those are special skills. It means that the connections I make are -- first and foremost -- authentic and sincere. And the truth is that those are the relationships I want in my life and career; I really want to work with people I respect and admire!
(2) Creating intimate and personalized events
One of the things NKPR has become known for is our personalized touch. We don't use the same "blast" approach as so many other PR companies (an approach, I hasten to add, that has its own merits and can be effective in other ways). Rather, we think carefully and selectively about who to engage on every project.
We often host events in intimate places, like our own offices, which have been designed to facilitate this. And I sometimes even host events in my own home, which is where I'm most at ease and I can be social on my own terms. This not only fits with my disposition, but has resulted in a deeper and more intimate relationship with clients and contacts.
(3) Preparation and practice
I've had two occasions in recent weeks that pushed me outside my introverted comfort zone. The first was walking the runway at the Dare to Wear Love fashion show, the second was speaking about networking for Young Women of Influence. Of course, this isn't my first time speaking in public, but for sure, it's something that pushes me outside my comfort zone. It might be an introvert's first instinct to run away from such occasions, but there are times when we all know that pushing outside our comfort zone will be a rewarding and affirming thing.
For me, the key is preparation and practice. I practiced my walking for the runway show and I had some help from supermodel Stacey McKenzie, who gave me some tips about what to do and think when walking the runway (she said, think SEX...). But I also put my own spin on it; live tweeting and taking pics of the crowd as I walked. I prepared and practised, but I made sure I was still "me."
Similarly, I prepared my speech in great depth. I even gave myself a chance to warm-up by doing a live-Twitter event, which lifted my energy for the occasion. A lot of this practice and preparation took place in my introvert's comfort zone; alone. It allowed me to harness my energy for what I knew would be an exciting and rewarding, but energy-depleting, event. And afterwards, I made sure I had some down-time to regain my energy again.
Susan Cain's book isn't defensive. She doesn't favour introverts over extroverts. Rather, she tries to point out the error of thinking success only looks one way; that it's all about brash backslapping. She also encourages us to learn how to interact with introverts as they are rather than thinking they ought to change to be more "outgoing," "bold" and "assertive." This is really about embracing diversity.
Introverts can be highly creative individuals, using their alone time to generate original and innovative ideas. Nurturing a balance of introverts and extroverts isn't only about doing what's right by individuals, it's also smart for our schools and businesses, for our own personal relationships. And, as an introvert, finding ways to network and operate on MY OWN terms has helped me create something original and distinctive, while also being true to myself.