One thing I learned about myself at the conference last week is that I absolutely stink at networking in person. Seriously. Worse networker ever.* I cannot go up to groups of people (large or small) and weasel my way into the conversation. I can try to convince myself to do it all day long, but it’s just not going to happen.
That being said, I am okay with going up to people who are also on their own. Maybe it’s because they’re not as threatening, or maybe I feel “in tune” with them more. Regardless, I can do that all day long and feel fine. I’m also very good with carrying on a conversation with people who approach me.
I’m not a huge fan of going to social events at conferences. I do try to stretch myself and go to a couple, but there’s no way I’d force myself to go to all of them. In this case, there were four, so I went to two. That’s pretty good in my books. 
I think my networking suckage was exaggerated by the fact that I did not know one person at this conference going in. It also didn’t help that it seemed that everyone else at the conference has known each other for a lifetime.**
In the end, though, I’ve decided it’s not something I need to work on and/or worry about too much. After all, this is who I am and I’m okay with that. I know it takes a lot of energy out of me to interact with others. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it (I do outreach for a living!) – it just means I need time to recover before heading back in. Plus, I still get lots of great ideas and contact information of people who would be good collaborators or otherwise – and, for me, that’s really the point of conferences.

It’s nice to be happy with the way I am.

If this sounds like you – or someone you know – I would recommend the book The Introvert Advantage. I also have Quiet in my to-read pile, another book written about and for introverts.
*I’m not looking for any advice on how to become a better networker here – I know all the things I’m “supposed” to do. I’ve read the articles and books – it’s just not in my nature.
**And before you say it’s in my head, the vast majority of the speakers were introduced by saying “and you all know this person, so they need no introduction **insert inside joke here**” followed by laughter of 95% of the audience. I actually wrote about this in the feedback survey because it was so common.
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Comments on: "Sucking at networking (and that’s okay)" (8)

  1. Nice post! I felt the same way at the last conference I was at where I knew no one and everyone else seemed to be best buddies. Do you think that you are more comfortable with your networking-suckage than you used to be, now that you are seattling into your career? I ask because as a soon to be defending PhD student, all I hear is that networking is THE most important way to find career opportunities and I worry a lot that I am not good at it and it is going to impeed my job hunt.

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  2. Hehehe, sounds like me too, although the last conference I went to was different because I knew so many people (finally…).
    Nevertheless I spent some days waiting for specific people to not be with their “groups” so I could approach them safely 😉
    Like you I have come to appreciate being an introvert, and the realization is fantastic.

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  3. I totally get where you are coming from. I am also an introvert. As for conference networking, I spent a couple years really confused by it (my advisor, also an introvert, never went to a conference with me to “show me the ropes”) and often felt lonely and like a terrible scientist that no one cared about. Then I went to a conference where not a lot of people knew a lot of other people at the conference, and then it just clicked–sometimes, you just have to plop yourself down at a random table. Sometimes it is awesome, other times it is not. Ever since, I've had a much easier time, and it's also better now that I know a lot of people. And I also now recognize that the real value of a conference is not the talks you hear but the relationships you build or maintain, which keeps me focused. I still go up to random people a fair bit–you never know who will be your next scientific BFF. Other than that, there are two things I make sure I do at conferences to balance the networking and the introversion: 1) always go out to dinner with people (valuable relationship-building time), but don't go out to bars later–that is quality introvert recharge time, 2) think of these events as theater. I used to do a lot of drama as a kid, and it helped me to think of these things sort of as performance pieces, and that helps get my game face on. And finally, when I get home, I like to hug a cat and read a book for a while.

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  4. Liz – that's a good question. It might very well be that, but it's also part of growing-up/getting older, I think.

    I managed to find a job I love without being good at networking, so try not to worry about it too much!

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  5. Nina – you bring up a good point about knowing more people the more you attend the same conference. I definitely recognized a few people I met at a conference I attended earlier this year, and it was much easier to talk with them. I'm hoping to become a part of the community as I go to more and more events.

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  6. Annika – interesting techniques, especially the drama one! I too never really had an advisor to show me the conference ropes. I'm more of a go-to-talks person at conferences, since that's where I learn the most (and I don't have to talk to people! LOL!).

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  7. I can definitely relate to this. I feel like one of my weaknesses as an academic is my inability (or perhaps, more pointedly, my unwillingness) to network. I'm not good at it, I don't enjoy it, and I often skip activities that require it. I heard about the Introvert Advantage book and will read it at some point. I'm struggling right now, as I am making an effort to be more engaged/engaging since I will be going up for tenure in a year or two and would like to be seen as more than a tenure file, but it is definitely a struggle. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

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  8. Charlotte – I think it's all about stretching yourself, but not overdoing it, you know? I think the Introvert Advantage could give you a lot of insight!

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