An Introvert’s Guide to Networking was a panel I’ve headed at PAX East, West, and Aus. As there was high attendance in all of them, I thought it’d be useful to plop down some of the things discussed here. Cheers to the people who have been on the panel before: Anya, Chris, Nick, Harris, Emre, Nina, Hope, and Noni. ❤
Keep in mind that I am speaking from my experiences. Note I’m cis-gendered and have no visible disabilities. Take everything with a grain of salt, as context matters.
We’ve all heard it. It’s important to make real connections! Make sure you have business cards! Chat! Have fun! Ask questions! Go to this event! Go to that! Did you introduce yourself to this person? Hey meet these 50 new people at this one overwhelming event!
It’s hard enough, but what if in reality you’d rather curl up into a ball under a table all day? Hi. I’m Victoria. I’m an introvert. Let’s chat. Here’s some tea. I have a heated blanket if you need it.
What is Introversion?
I define introversion not by “shyness” (which is a different concept altogether), but by what situations drain your energy. For introverts, social interactions tire them out extremely quickly. Meanwhile, extroverts can feel antsy or anxious without enough social interaction. No one is PURELY an extrovert/introvert (it’s a spectrum), and maybe you’d be more comfortable being called an “ambivert”.
Regardless, the point of this post is to talk about networking while introverted, especially since game development is actually filled with A LOT of social activity, from PAXs to GDCs.
What is Networking?
Does the term “networking” make you want to vomit a bit? Yeah? That’s okay, a lot of people feel the same way. A better way to think about it is as “relationship building”. That is, that you go into interactions with the mindset of genuinely wanting to get to know them and wanting the best for them. (Networking online/offline are pretty different by the way. In this post I’m focusing on in-person meetings.)
It doesn’t mean you NEED to be best friends with every single person you meet. Just being aware that the other person has their own needs, wants, and life beyond your goals. They are not some connection to be “won” or “collected”. Oh and trust me, people can easily tell when you’re just talking to them because you want something. It’s uncomfortable.
Let’s be entirely clear about a few things though.
- Talking to people and active listening is a skill.
- Since it is a skill, it requires practice.
- It is not easy. (But some people will make it look easy!)
So don’t beat yourself up if an interaction goes awkwardly, or if everyone else seems to know what they’re doing. Soft skills are often overlooked, but they’re one of the most difficult and nuanced things to get a hold of.
And remember, we’re ALL pretty shy and awkward. It’s actually pretty neat when someone makes the effort.
I’ll admit the hardest thing for me to do is introducing myself to people. It’s the thing that makes me freeze up the most, weirdly. But having a good introduction opens up the floor for you, so memorize one that you can use. Being prepared makes me less likely to freeze up and I can mentally work up to it. It doesn’t have to be complicated either! “Hey! I don’t think we’ve met, I’m ____” or “Hi, I’m ____, what’s your name?” are simple yet effective.
Don’t get me wrong through, it’s still going to tell some mental fortitude to work yourself up to making that introduction. People will make it seem effortless sometimes, but it IS effort.
Alright, so we’re out here trying to make some connections, and suddenly everything seems super overwhelming. Personally, I always need to mentally prep myself before going to events or meeting new people. So to prevent feeling overwhelmed/anxious when I know I’ll be meeting a ton of new people, I create small, reachable goals in my mind. For instance, if I know I will be at a networking event, I’ll mentally think:
- Say hi to at least 5 new people
- You know 3 acquaintances will be at the party — make sure you find and say hi to them
- Ask 3 people about a non-game related hobby
If I end up deviating or end up in a really good conversation with someone else, that’s fine! The trick here is just to be able to break down what you’re going to do so you don’t feel too overwhelmed when you arrive.
People like talking about themselves and their experiences — sometimes you just need to find the RIGHT thing. Asking someone what their favorite TV show might be a moot topic if they don’t realllly care about TV that much, but ask them about their favorite uhh vegetables and suddenly they will regale you with endless stories about their gardening.
Basically, if you feel awkward talking about yourself, ask someone about something! Their passion! What is their THING? Let them do the talking. This can be done in a variety of ways, I usually try to start things with things like…
- Often times people wear graphic T-shirts of games they’re fans of. Do you like that game? Want to know more about it? “Oh that’s a cool shirt! I haven’t played that game before — what do you like about it?”
- “Hey ok weird question maybe but does peanut butter go better with jam OR mayonnaise. I’m having an ongoing debate with a friend and I need to prove they are wrong.”
And honestly, it’s okay to lean into a charm that only awkward people possess. Weird questions are fun! They get people talking! (And by weird… I don’t mean ask inappropriate questions. Try not to ask extremely personal questions when you have just met someone — touch on things that have no real weight. Like whether or not cilantro tastes like soap, or their thoughts on dabbing.)
Often times when a passion is brought up, people can talk a lot about it and you may eventually find a common thread. OR you’ll be enraptured by the cool new topic you’re suddenly learning a lot about! Talking with people can be pretty cool sometimes.
Okay I Genuinely Need Something Though
Alright, so in another situation you’re meeting someone because you actually have a business reason RIGHT NOW. Maybe you want to ask for advice. Mentorship. You’re a streamer who wants a key. You want a job. Etc.
This is one of the trickiest things to give advice for, admittedly. I don’t feel extremely comfortable talking about what to do here, since how you interact depends on what you need, the time frame in which you need it, and who you’re asking. Sorry!
Overall though, don’t waste the other person’s time. Nothing annoys me more than when I am chatting to someone who is clearly just waiting for a certain amount of exchanges to happen before they ask for something. State what you need and give them the space and opportunity to get back to you another time. Give them a proper way to contact you. And remember to thank them before and after.
One of the things that doesn’t happen often are follow ups, especially after a convention. Just a simple email or tweet will do. LOTS of business cards are exchanged and forgotten about. People who actually put in the work to follow up are remembered more often, especially when they note something memorable about the interaction.
I’ve always been someone who writhes in agony when I know a big event is happening… and I’m not there. That’s right, it’s FOMO — the Fear of Missing Out.
Overtime though, I’ve learned that the best times I’ve had genuine connections with others have never really been at parties. The bigger and louder it is, the less enjoyable it is for me. There’s no point in draining yourself at a party where you’ll be too intimidated to chat with anyone.
Go rest! Charge up for the next day! Or consider smaller, more intimate events. Which leads me to my next point…
The bigger a crowd gets, the more quiet I tend to be. So when I’ve wanted to meet new people or connect more with acquaintances, the best strategy I’ve found is literally to just reach out (on Twitter, email, in person) and ask if they want to have lunch with me. Or coffee! Sometimes I’ll ask 3–5 people so it’s a small hang out. Sometimes I’ll just ask one person for something more intimate.
The easiest thing to do, by the way, is to give someone a specific date/time to meet, to prevent it going around in circles. If you want to chat about something specific like game development, let them know that too so they’re prepared! And don’t forget “no” is a valid answer.
Either way, this has been the most ideal way for me to get to know someone. It’s never been parties.
So here’s something about social situations that you’ve probably gotten at this point— they’re entirely subjective and context dependent.
As much as I may be throwing some vague tips at you, ultimately it is up to you to judge whether a social situation is going well or not. Be aware of how much conversational “space” you’re taking up. If the other person seems like they’re struggling to keep a conversation going, you might need to step up how much you’re contributing. If it’s been 5 minutes and they haven’t been able to get a word in, slow down and let them chat.
But more importantly — know when a conversation should end. People are busy, and sometimes you need to be aware if they need to leave. Do they look uncomfortable? Are they giving short, conversation-ending answers? Do they seem like they’re itching to get away? Be ready to cut the conversation short if you get the feeling it’s time, give them a lull in the conversation if they need to make their exit, or ask!
Recap & End
Alright, so honestly if this has been a tl;dr situation, just keep this in mind:
- Making conversation is an active skill. Like any skill, it’s difficult and needs to be practiced.
- Few people will not be disarmed by genuine kindness and interest.
- Know when a conversation needs to end.
- Context matters. The other person’s situation matters. Your own situation matters. These are just broad, overarching tips.
- Don’t beat yourself up if a conversation doesn’t go as smoothly as you wanted it to. It happens. And if someone is mean? Walk away. It’s not worth getting to know them.
I hope this helped, even if it’s just a little bit. :)