Hands up if you consider yourself an introvert. Yeah, that includes you at the back, hoping you won’t catch my eye. There are more of us than like to admit it, and nearly all of us find social occasions as painful as taking a pen and sticking it straight into your eyeball.
I’ve just returned from the Romance Writers of New Zealand conference. It’s only my second conference, and I haven’t been since 2011. This was me the first time I went:
The wallflower. I didn’t know anyone, and I’d only had one book published, so although that was great, I didn’t feel as if I had a huge amount to shout about. I went to the published authors round table and waited for someone to say “Excuse me, do you really think one book counts?” I went to the cocktail party and stood in the corner and hardly talked to anyone, too shy to just walk up and introduce myself. Everyone seemed to know everyone else. When it came to the awards dinner, I was late because I’d nearly talked myself out of going, and when I did eventually go down, I walked in and out half a dozen times before I could convince myself to sit. It was the year that the lovely Sandra Hyde died at conference, and I had no idea who she was and was completely bewildered by everyone’s grief on the Sunday morning.
Overall, I had a great time – the talks and workshops were fantastic, and I was so glad I went. But I know I didn’t make the most of the experience because I’d kept to myself so much.
This time, I was determined to be different. This time, I had seventy novels under my belt, sixty of which are published. I was a USA Today bestselling author. I had friends I’d made online that I wanted to meet. And I didn’t want to waste the opportunity (and the money – it’s not cheap once you take into account the cost of conference, flying down to Rotorua, and the cost of the hotel.)
So, this time, I went as Serenity. That’s author Serenity, not me. This was me this weekend:
Okay, maybe not quite like that, I’m not that brave. But when I got on the plane at Kerikeri, I made a switch. I once watched a documentary on Marilyn Monroe where a friend of hers was out with her, and Marilyn had no makeup on and ordinary clothes and nobody was noticing her, and then she said to her friend, “Do you want to see me be her?” And she switched on some kind of internal light and just shone, and suddenly everyone came flocking over wanting her autograph.
Again, maybe it wasn’t quite like that. But I was different. I went up to people and introduced myself, read their nametag, and asked, “What do you write?” (I apologize for asking publisher Jo Mackay from Harlequin the same question. #embarrassingmoment. I just hadn’t seen her surname. Serenity is still blonde.) I took business cards and gave out some of mine. I pitched to agents and publishers just to have a chat about my business. I sat next to Jo at dinner and completely monopolized her by talking about publishing non-stop (again, sorry Jo) but had a great conversation. I talked to people in the business in the taxi on the way there and on the plane on the way home. And I sat on a panel for self-publishing.
I used to teach adults (archaeology in my previous life), so I’m not super-terrified of public speaking – it’s the one-on-one stuff that kills me because I have to be myself. I suppose in one way it’s cheating by going as “someone else”. Or is it? I believe we all have multiple personalities (especially writers), and each personality is just a side of the dice – I’m a different person with my husband and son than I am with my parents, or the people I used to work with, or my author persona.
I had a fantastic time. Did I play wallflower at all? Oh yeah, once or twice; I found myself on my own and panicked for a few moments before turning to the person next to me and just introducing myself. And I met such lovely people. Everyone was so friendly and eager to talk, and it was amazing just to talk about writing all weekend! Talk about a dream come true!
So if you consider yourself an introvert, and you have to go to the works’ dinner, or a function at your partner’s job, or you’re being dragged to a party, don’t go as yourself. Turn that dice around and slip on another persona like slipping into a sexy dress. Think about half a dozen topics you can talk about – what do you love doing in your spare time? Are you a gardener, do you love cooking, painting? Think of questions to ask people – they love talking about themselves. What they do for a living, where they’re from, how many kids they have.
And remember, YOLO dudes - you only live once. Does it really matter if someone turns away from you to talk to someone else (tick)? Or you say something stupid? (multiple ticks.) Or you spill something down your top at dinner (tick)? Of course not. Life's too short to be so self-conscious. Everyone only cares about themselves, and if anyone is mean, their opinion really isn't worth worrying about.
Do you consider yourself an introvert? Do you have any other tips for getting by in social situations? Let me know in the comments!
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