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Introverts' Guide to Holiday Merriment

Make genuine connections even during this tinselly time of year.

How can you make socializing—and its oft-dreaded stunt double, networking—fun for the holidays if you’re an introvert? Does networking have to be a paint-by-numbers, smarm-filled, elevator pitchy kind of activity? Or can you make a handful of genuine connections even during this tinselly time of year?

Americans spend an average of 15 hours attending holiday social gatherings according to a recent Consumer Reports poll. That could mean hitting the party circuit three hours a week from the five weeks from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day. What’s an introvert to do? Socialize, of course—if you care about your career. And the corollary: pace yourself.

I say do it your way. Katharine Brooks, Ed.D., an introvert and author of You Majored in What?, agrees. “I navigate the holiday party season by creating my own smaller parties,” she says. “Because I'm the host, I keep busy with all the preparations and cooking, and I let my guests do the talking and mingling,” she adds. So how does Brooks interact with her guests? “They come and talk to me in the kitchen,” she says. “And since my kitchen overlooks the party area, I can still see what's going on and listen in on conversations.”

Liz Lynch, author of Smart Networking, adds, “I started my business 10 years ago in late October, so holiday networking was vital for my prospecting strategy.” Lynch believes that networking with existing contacts is the fastest way to bring in new clients. Why? “Because the people who already know, like, and trust you are more ready to hire you or refer you to people they know,” she says.

 How did Lynch get her business off the ground? “I accepted an invitation to a casual get-together some former colleagues organized at a local bar,” she says. “I'm a joiner, so I say ‘yes’ to most events. But I'm also an introvert, so I secretly hope that a natural disaster will force them to be canceled!” Lynch continues, “When no snowstorm manifested that evening, I found myself at the gathering actually enjoying catching up with folks I hadn't seen in a couple of years. I focused more on rekindling the relationships and learning about what my acquaintances were doing now rather than trying to pitch my services.”

The upshot? “I can directly trace hundreds of thousands of dollars of consulting fees over the years from conversations I had at that event,” says Lynch. “The bottom line? You may be just one conversation away from your next big opportunity, so say, ‘yes’ to that invitation," she advises.

In contrast, Brooks says, “It's okay to turn down invitations.” She explains, “It's so easy to fall into a people-pleasing trap and feel pressured to be more social. If you want to spend the time with one or two friends instead of parties, do that.” Agreed—as long as you’re maintaining a strong network through other means such as online social media, volunteer work, and serving on boards of directors.

 Beth Buelow, founder of The Introvert Entrepreneur, adds, “The first holiday season my husband and I lived in a new town, we went to events every night for two weeks straight. It was fun but exhausting!” Buelow and her husband are both introverts. She continues, “It helped that we’d discuss how long we were going to stay before walking through the door.”

What did the Buelows do once they arrived at the scene of all the merriment? “I had a few at-the-event tricks for preserving my energy: I’d offer to help in some way, which made it easier to mingle with a purpose. I also allowed myself to have more in-depth conversations.” How did Buelow avoid drowning in a boisterous sea of chitchat? “Stepping out of the room for five or 10 minutes to take a break always helped.” She adds, “And knowing when we were going to make our getaway? Priceless!”

Holiday networking cheat sheet for introverts

Summing up my chats with Brooks, Lynch, and Buelow—three introverts with far reaching networks—and adding a few bonus tips:

  1. Host an event and hang out in the kitchen.
  2. Show your face at holiday gatherings; don’t overstay.
  3. Focus on building rapport rather than selling yourself.
  4. Seek introductions and referrals; of course, be generous about making them for others as well.
  5. Offer to help the host. Find a specific task to do.
  6. Take breaks. If the chatter gets too much, step out for a spell.
  7. Prepare a snappy way to introduce yourself. Despite my snarky remark about elevator pitches, do prepare a line or two to introduce yourself with flourish to avoid that generic “I’m an accountant” effect.
  8. Just say, “hello.” Walk up to someone standing alone and introduce yourself by extending your hand, saying your name, and showing genuine interest.
  9. Embrace the differences. Just as you may feel like the odd one out for being more reflective than the revelers around you, remember that some of the other partygoers may celebrate different holiday traditions. Embrace the diversity by inquiring, sharing, and learning about different traditions.
  10. Make plans "after the holidays." When acquaintances ask when you can get together, if you need to buy a little time, say you’d love to after the holidays. That can mean in January or February. Show interest and build your network without overextending yourself. Definitely follow up.

Hungry for more stories and tips to help you boost your networking mojo? Check out an excerpt from my book, Self-Promotion for Introverts®. Also see my story, “How Do You Talk About Yourself?” and Brooks’s story, “Networking 101 for Introverts.” Confused about the difference between introverts and shy people? A guest post, “(Not) Hiding Behind the Introvert Card,” by Patty K. on Buelow’s blog will give you clarity. Lastly, for a peek through Lynch’s portal during her recent cruise around Alaska, including her reflections on the point of all this networking (plus some gorgeous pix), see “Take a New Perspective to Overcome Old Thinking.”

Bill Hutchinson, “Average American will spend two whole days holiday shopping, partying, traveling: poll,” The New York Daily News, November 16, 2010.

Copyright © 2010 Nancy Ancowitz