The Introvert Entrepreneur's Holiday Survival Guide
In addition to the usual dangers of an expanding waistline and the next-day embarrassment of, ahem, excessive festivity, holiday party season presents special challenges to the more introverted portion of the population.
You love seasonal cheer and a good networking opportunity as much as the next person, but all that small talk can be about as appealing as getting a root canal for Christmas. While there is no magic to turn a retiring wallflower into an every-night party maven, experts do have a few simple tips and tricks that can make the party going experience more fruitful.
Forget Fashionably Late
Maybe you heard somewhere that the way to make an entrance is to arrive after a substantial portion of the other guests. Maybe you just wasted an hour at home talking yourself into actually going to the blasted party, or perhaps it's simple math--the later you go the less time you have to spend there. But whatever your justification, forget fashionably late.
"Think about what introverts don't like. They don't like a lot of action, a lot of activity and a lot of people which is exactly what they walk into when they get to a holiday party late," Devora Zack, author of Networking for People Who Hate Networking, said. "There are only a few people that get to events exactly on time and it will be a much more introvert-friendly experience."
This principle applies not only to your initial arrival but also to dinner if it's a seated event, according to Zack, who recommends introverts be the first at their table. "Banquet-style events with large round tables are often intimidating for introverts who feel uncomfortable with large groups. Zack recommends being the first one to sit down. Allowing others to fill in the table gives a natural opening to a conversation, rather than trying to join a group that is already established," reports Entrepreneur.
Having nothing to do gives you too much time to fret. If possible, consider hosting an event so you can keep busy, or volunteer to help out the host in the kitchen (this popular strategy even has its own anthem). Sophia Dembling, author of The Introvert's Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World, endorses this classic introvert survival trick: "You're interacting, but you're doing your own thing. I call it pretend mingling."
Katharine Brooks, a self-professed introvert and author of You Majored in What? also suggested the technique to Psychology Today: "I navigate the holiday party season by creating my own smaller parties. Because I'm the host, I keep busy with all the preparations and cooking, and I let my guests do the talking and mingling." Beth Buelow, founder of The Introvert Entrepreneur, concurs, explaining that at parties, she'd "offer to help in some way, which made it easier to mingle with a purpose."
Does it make you feel lame practicing what to say before parties? Get over it, say the experts. Framing some possible questions and ways to talk about yourself can take some of the stress out of events – just don't overdo it to the point where you're worrying about remembering canned responses.
"Rather than saying 'I'm bad at small talk,' set yourself up for success [by planning ahead]," recommends Zack, who suggests you "plan some interesting, open-ended questions that will stimulate conversation. Rather than asking 'what do you do?', try asking 'what's the best part of your job?'"
Thinking of topics for discussion, such as a recent book you've read or movie you've seen, can also help.
Psychology Today also advises introverts to: "prepare a snappy way to introduce yourself… prepare a line or two to introduce yourself with flourish to avoid that generic 'I'm an accountant' effect."
No stress-busting strategy in the world is going to increase a die-hard introvert's appetite for social functions to the extent that she's happy to socialize all night every night. That level of partying is entirely possible for many of us this time of year. So stay sane and pace yourself.
"Choose your parties, and don't let anyone convince you the party's going to collapse if you leave," Dembling says.
Even if you agree to an event, don't feel like you can't take a breather. "Stepping out of the room for five or ten minutes to take a break always helped," reports Buelow.
What are your tricks for getting through holiday party mania?
JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.