I would refer to myself as an introvert. I often need space and quiet time without scheduled (or even unscheduled) activities weighing on me. Without this quiet time, I become frayed, a little worn around the edges of my patience, and step a lot more into my left-brain than my delicious-feeling, creative right-brain. And I feel tired. I basically put myself in several ‘time outs’ weekly to balance out. But if you ask a lot of people around me, clients I’ve met through my business or others I’ve worked with, they’ll suggest that I’m anything but introverted.
That’s the natural consequence of choosing the line of work I have. Public Relations, by its very nature, is about… you guessed it… talking to people. I’ve managed, hosted, and organised client events in my roles in Marketing and Communications, that require the ability (and dare I say it, bravery) to talk to people, most often strangers, with ease and regularly in loud environments. And then there’s the bit where I became a yoga teacher and corporate wellbeing trainer who, in addition to teaching several general classes a week, regularly holds events of varying lengths, all of which require my voice and presence. There’s no hiding there, and this introvert wouldn’t have it any other way.
So how do I manage handling very extrovert-natural environments when I would rather ‘not bother anyone’ (or myself) most of the time otherwise?
Adopt a persona – you’re on a stage
When I was running the events for my workplace, it got to the point where I would ask myself: Am I ‘Jess’ or am I the person managing this event?
It helped to step out of myself, and into a version of me who is just as much ‘me’, but a little less hidden. I consciously allowed myself to be in that bigger role that almost became another persona of myself.
I spent most of my high school years in drama and dance classes, or in theatre groups performing on stage. I loved these moments because it became about more than just me (not that that’s not ‘enough’ as it is), and more about what or whom I was representing on that stage. So when I became a yoga teacher, I realised I could really let my voice shine from that position of being someone there to teach and guide. And when I worked these events, I stepped into the position of being the someone there to manage. Which leads me to my next tip…
Once I started to shift my perspective of these situations, I started to feel empowered. No longer was I my solitary self trying to approach strangers in a bar for conversation. I was the manager of this event and I had purpose there. I was fortunate to be in the position of being the point person for the bar and wait staff as well, which meant I’d occasionally have those moments of bar tab and food service things to check in on. So if you are in a place to do that, embrace it!
If it’s not your event and you’re there as a guest, there are still ways you can politely take charge and give yourself a confidence-boosting purpose to be there. Ask yourself – how would I be if I was a my own work event? Would I be more confident in approaching and talking to people? If not, try to draw on any scenario where you do feel that comfort, even if it’s only with your closest of friends.
Make comfort the priority
It helps to put your own insecurities aside when you make other people’s comfort the priority in social or networking situations. I definitely do not mean at your own expense, however there can be true empowerment in taking on this gentle ‘White Knight’ type of role. See someone else who is also on their own and looking a little awkward? Try approaching them (with a smile if you can manage it) and making them feel welcome by asking their name, where they’re from, or how they know so-and-so. And don’t worry if they still don’t open up. The beauty of these events is you don’t need to marry them. But if they do turn out to be open to conversation, maybe you make it a joint activity to seek out anyone else who might be looking just as alone and uncomfortable and invite them to join in. Then it makes it naturally easier to excuse yourself if you’re ready to and chat to someone else.
Once I realised that I can function as someone who can make someone else’s experience a more comfortable and enjoyable one in these kinds of settings, it changed the game for how I, literally and figuratively, approached these events. It still makes a difference when I attend social events where I only know just the one person in a group of 30 or so.
As much as us introverts would sometimes love to imagine a world where we can get by without having to interact with strangers as much, quite often we can utilise ways to make sure we feel safe in the moments where aversion is simply not possible. The main part here is to still be completely you. You don’t have to change yourself or pretend you’re something else in order to find your way. The persona is still you, the empowered individual is all you, the comforter is you. The question is: will you let these versions of yourself explore the world a little more?