How to survive social events as an introvert

When people excitedly talk about “getting to go” to events and meeting new people, is your reaction to start brainstorming excuses to get yourself out of it?

Me too man, me too.

I get told all the time that I am too outgoing to be an introvert, but trust me. I’m like, turtle level introverted and would rather be inside my shell than flitting around like a social butterfly. No thanks, not for me.

There’s nothing wrong with being a social butterfly – in fact you are all amazing and we need you! But we, the introverted turtles, can also fear the social butterflies when they come together in large numbers. The whole situation can become super overwhelming, real fast.

Suddenly I understand why some people are afraid butterflies. Huh.

Attending events will never ever be something I’m cool as a cucumber about — no matter how excited I manage to look. Even if I want to be there and have looked forward to whatever it is for months, trust me, I’m still panicking day of and wondering how I can back out.

Seriously, every single time.

It’s not always possible to bail on things, ‘cause you know, the event is with your boss, you’ve bought plane tickets, or you’re already standing outside the doors and people have already seen you…

BUT, the point is, sometimes you really do want to make this whole pretend-to-be-a-social-butterfly thing work, even though it’s super hard, super scary, and super stress-sweat inducing. When that happens, there are some things I’ve learned that can make it better, or at least bearable – hopefully they can help you too.

And yeah, you better believe exit plans are involved. I don’t mess around.

“Be Fearless” Jamberry Conference in 2017 –that I was super freaked out, and excited, to go to

1. Know the schedule

For me, the mingling / networking / let’s chat and be social parts of events is my actual nightmare. Again, I might look happy and smiley on the outside, but I promise you I’m having a meltdown on the inside that rivals the fiery takedown of the dinosaurs. I’m not even sure I’m exaggerating.

So I avoid it. I figure out how long I need to get to where I’m going and plan to arrive ten minutes prior to the start of the event program. Just enough time to find a seat and start a conversation with someone without being committed for too long, or short enough time that it isn’t awkward to sit alone. Perfect.

Yeah, networking is important, but there’s usually time after the event, too. I find it less uncomfortable to strike up a conversation afterwards because hey, now you have lots to talk about!

2. Have a seat (exit) strategy

Whenever possible I choose a seat right in the aisle or close to a door so I can make an easy exit with minimal disruption if I need to. At least for me, there’s nothing worse than feeling stuck.

If I’m feeling like a social turtle, I’ll sit at a table or in a row that’s almost full, preferably one that only has a couple seats left. That way it’s super easy to join the conversation and the pressure isn’t on me to keep it going.

If I’m in retreat mode and forcing myself to be wherever it is I happen to be, I’ll pick an empty table or row. That way when people join your table or sit beside you it feels like they’re entering your space and it’s somehow less stressful.

I’m sure there’s some psychology behind all this, but I studied Archaeology and Latin American Studies in university, so don’t ask me. I can tell you fun facts about the Mayans though y puedo decir unas cosas en español, si quieres.

3. Do your research

I try to prepare as much as I can by reading up on the presenters and making sure I’m up to date on relevant current events. Those are easy talking points to start up a conversation instead of making small talk about the weather. Maybe there is something worse than feeling stuck – small talk.

Walking into a room with people you don’t know is scary bananas when you’re an introverted turtle and already feel like you don’t belong. Imposter Syndrome is no joke. Feeling like I can contribute to discussions goes a long way in combating that!

4. Pack a bag

Part of my anxiety around events is embarrassing myself – let’s be real, that’s the entire anxiety. So I pack a bag of all the things I could possibly need, and you better believe I make it seem like it weighs absolutely nothing. I’m a delicate flower who couldn’t possibly be lugging around twenty pounds of stuff – who me? Never.

I keep a zipper pouch of essentials with me that I move from bag to bag – this has stuff like my No Pong anti-odourant (yep, still my fave), stress relief inhaler, peppermint oil, tissues, oil blotting sheets, hair ties and bobby pins, and a couple lipsticks that make me feel confident. Everything I need for a quick spruce up.

I like to bring a small, lightweight notebook with a couple pens (someone always asks to borrow one), water bottle, dental floss, mints and a small mirror. Fresh breath and the ability to check if you have something in your teeth – and take care of it – is definitely not overrated!

5. Bring a buddy

The buddy system worked in elementary school for a reason – a designated person to talk to, sit with, who can’t leave your side. Perfect. Ok not really – it’s better if they want to be there. If I can go somewhere with a friend, I’m immediately at ease. My social butterfly costume camouflages my turtle shell so well you’ll think I’m some kind of extrovert. I assure you, no, still very much a turtle.

If I have a friend with me, I’m less concerned about the schedule because now the idea of networking isn’t so uncomfortable. Group conversations are so much easier to start and keep going, especially if there’s a friend backing you up. Plus, it’s more fun with a buddy!

The social buffer and confidence boost of a friend makes the whole experience less intimidating. Still hard, but much more manageable.

Photo by The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash

Just be your own unique self

Everyone is different, so one person’s idea of a great time is another person’s nightmare – just so happens that most social situations and events are the latter for me. And that’s ok. I’m perfectly happy to spend lots of time alone, which other people find excruciating – those would be your classic extroverts. And that’s ok too.

Once you stop trying to fight against yourself, I promise it becomes easier. I know that social stuff isn’t my thing, so I don’t get down on myself about it – I own it. I’d rather float in a pod than go to a party. My idea of a good time is spending hours trying new recipes from a Gilmore Girls themed cookbook or doodling in my journal. Whatever! That’s me.

When I do want to stretch my turtle shell and do something or go somewhere outside my comfort zone, these tips help me feel as in control as I can, given the situation. Hopefully these simple ideas can help you, too.

What are some ways you combat social anxiety?

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