An introvert’s guide to surviving and thriving at industry events
Our lawyer, shortly after passing the bar, was sent off to an industry party. The firm had an extra ticket. “Exciting!” thought the lawyer. Until the introvert-trending lawyer walked in. The people the lawyer arrived with saw friends, disappearing into pre-formed conversational circles, leaving the lawyer standing alone. A sense of not belonging overcame the lawyer.
Tonight’s gonna be a good night
There are ways to embrace industry cocktail parties whether one loves or loathes them. This takes preparation, being open to outcome, presence, directness, and follow up. Events provide learning and connection opportunities. Lawyers are creative, sharing amazing ways to help people. Events provide opportunities to make new relationships, rekindle old ones, and gather the learnings and gestalt in the industry. Navigating them can be challenging for the 20% of our population who are true introverts, as well as those trending that way. Extraverts gather energy from large groups, while introverts prefer time within themselves, or with one to two people.
Preparation helps introverts. Get a sense of who may be there. Organizations, if asked politely, will oftentimes share event attendee lists. Firms hosting parties now frequently use open digital guest lists that can be reviewed a few hours before the event to refresh oneself on names. Why know who will be there? It helps build the plan. “I haven’t seen Pat in years – I need to make sure I say hi.” “Dylan just got that amazing verdict on a case similar to one I have; I’ll seek Dylan out.” Plans are great. They provide goals before arrival. Introverts should also build the entry/transition phase in. Know that walking in will feel like jumping into icy water, and know that no-one cares or notices. Breathe, and within 5-10 minutes one will be talking to someone with a case-winning tip, practice-changing pointer, or night’s best story. Still too nerve-wracking? Consider arriving with a colleague. Set expectations. A successful event consists of meeting one or two interesting people and gathering one or two case- or practice-changing nuggets, not winning over everyone in the room.
‘Tis the season
Plan in mind and boom – one enters the room! Few plans survive the first engagement – akin to pivots during one’s jury selection outline. Time for presence and directness. One may have planned to seek out Pat, yet been drawn into another interesting conversation. Stay present. Don’t scan the room. No-one likes talking to someone with roving eyes. Recognize most folks cocktail in shorter, small talk conversations. Listen for disengagement cues, “If you’ll excuse me, I need to go and freshen up my drink,” is not an invitation to follow along. If one dives into a deeper conversation, offer outs: “I’ve enjoyed chatting with you, please don’t let me monopolize your time.” Be direct. Bad with names? Uncomfortable? Miss social cues? Own and acknowledge this. Many experience similar concerns, and it humanizes the interaction rather than making one seem abrupt or standoffish.
I have to return some videotapes
Different strategies work for different people in crowds. There’s surge theory, staying in one place while folks swirl by. Goodbye theory works well for those least comfortable. Make one’s way deep inside, get a drink, and work back toward the exit to leave. As soon as the pressure to stay dissipates, one starts enjoying the event. Then there’s Two Drink theory, leaving as the room hits the two-drink point, roughly 45 minutes to 1.5 hours into an event when the volume escalates and one starts having to repeat over the noise.
A brief word about alcohol and events. I don’t drink anymore, as I flew too close to the sun. Nearly a decade later, I feel I’m still undoing judgments made about me due to past drunken event behavior. Those requiring a nerve-calmer just to be in the room are potentially on the addiction path. Our profession is high stress, which translates to high addiction rates. For a deep dive into alcohol’s health benefits, try Andrew D. Huberman, PhD’s Huberman Lab podcast, episode 86. Alcohol is not the devil. It is a problem for some. For those, I write this believing I would have altered course earlier if I knew then what I know now.
Enough alcohol diatribe. After the action comes the after action (report). Relationships and learning flourish with follow up. Shortly after the event, jot down post-event to-do’s. These may be reaching out for exemplars, setting up lunches, or adding people to contact lists for future brainstorming. They can also be executing on new learnings from the event. Seize the opportunities presented by those engagements and do not let them go gentle into that previous night.
Back to our lawyer and that night decades ago. A colleague came and rescued the lawyer and that sense of not belonging dissipated. Yet it returns, briefly, with each new event. Approaching events with intentionality and being open to outcome have made these experiences enriching, if not always within the lawyer’s comfort zone.