A True Tale of Fear and Loathing in Professional Development

By: William Lessley 

Hello, my name is Will and I’m an introvert. It literally Fortpains me to be in a large crowd of people for too long. In the association management industry, this can be a real liability. Almost everything we do involves directly interacting with other people.

The first five years of my career were spent in the meetings department. I liked working with our members to get them registered, creating the detailed plan of the flow of the meeting, and being on-site problem solving. I did not, however, enjoy the forced relationships with my hotel contacts. This wasn’t because I didn’t like my hotel contacts – I couldn’t understand why I dreaded the interaction, honestly. Looking around at my peers, all I was sure of was that something must be wrong with me.

Fast forward another four or five years and I finally realized the truth of what being an introvert meant. For an excellent overview of extrovert behavior, please read this article from Huffington Post. Are you an introvert, too? If so, there are ways you can still advance your career and make important contacts!

Last week I attended the Florida Society for Association Executives’ (FSAE) 2014 Annual Conference. The theme of this year’s event was “Planting the Seeds of Innovation” and it took place in Orlando, FL. This was my second year attending FSAE’s annual event and I had a great time! I had the opportunity to introduce two session speakers and I surprised myself by not being nervous at all. Introducing a speaker in front of a bunch of my peers? No problem. Making small talk during the networking events? Big problem.

I’ve always wanted to dive right into the subject at hand – dig around Fountainin it and find some nuggets of wisdom. Making small talk is hard for me because I’m an introvert and small talk doesn’t feel genuine. It doesn’t mean anything negative about me or my abilities but it can really feel that way. So here are a few things I found helped me connect to my peers at this year’s event:

  1. Talk to the people you sit next to at a session. Many speakers are trying to make their sessions more interactive and may even tell you to talk to the folks around you. This can still be overwhelming but you can stick to the subject at hand. This also means you don’t want to sit all by yourself far away from anyone to interact with!                        
  2. Ask the person you’re trying to talk to what they do at the organization they work for. Maybe I’m the only one, but coming out and just asking “What do you do at _____?” always seemed so blunt and tactless. I’d agonize over ideas for small talk leading up to getting that answer. This year I would say, “I’m Will and I do a lot with our membership and communications at PIAM. What do you focus on at _____?” Worked like a charm.
  3. If there’s any type of hands-on class, take it! We had a Challenge Course & Leadership Adventure option in this year’s event. They divided us into groups for the activity and I suddenly found myself spending 2 quality hours with a small group of people. We made a serious connection and I now have folks I can easily connect with from the office via social media and again in person when we next meet face to face.
  4. Tell the person you’re looking for someone to bounce ideas off of. I found that several of my new contacts reacted very positively when I mentioned that I was looking for new folks to bounce ideas off of and that I hoped we could become resources for one another.FSAE-1-2014

Being an introvert doesn’t mean that I don’t like people or that I have poor social skills. It means I have to work extra hard at it to make it work. The power of having an inner circle of talented peers to tap is an amazing asset to your career. Consider some of these additional networking ideas for introverts.


One thought on “A True Tale of Fear and Loathing in Professional Development

  1. From one introvert to another–great blog and some realistic ideas for successful interactions at a conference. Thanks!

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