One of the joys of writing if you are an introvert is to be able to safely express yourself on the page and not have to interact face-to-face. However, events such as the launch of your book, a book signing or networking events will require you to attend in person.
Working as a social worker for over fifteen years I have experienced countless situations requiring me to talk to new people. This would be anything from a sensitive client family meeting, discussing death, loss of limbs, counselling, right down to just making casual conversation with someone who does not wish to open up.
Facing the fear makes it less fearful and you get practice in the meantime.
If an event coming up feels overwhelming consider taking smaller steps. Practice doing what makes you feel nervous in settings that don’t matter as much to you. Meet-ups are a great way to experiment with this. It could be a hobby such as learning how to cook or attending Toastmasters. If you want to stick to writing-related events, consider attending a low-key book reading in a small, casual location.
Tips to prepare before the event
What is your goal? Focus on that goal whenever you get nervous. Does it have a measurable outcome? For example, “speak to two new people,” or “learn three new things about xyz” or perhaps it is just to be able to attend a new event.
Decide on if you want to bring a ‘plus one’ for support. Make sure it is someone who can be sociable with others and doesn’t need to be looked after the whole time. I once brought a friend to a party where we spent most of the time just catching up. I missed an opportunity to meet new people.
Do your homework first. If it is an event where you can see other people attending (such as a social media invite) you could become familiar with names and profile photos. Decide in advance if there are people you hope to connect with. Look up the event details. Figure out how far away it is, parking and dress code. Consider bringing business cards so you can easily hand out your details if you feel inclined to do so. Being organized helps to take some pressure off on the actual day.
Brainstorm questions you could ask people. Having mental notes prepared will give you readily available tools for a conversation starter. Also, what questions might you be asked? Think of positive answers. For example, if asked, “How many books have you written?” and you are a new writer, an answer could be, “I am in the middle of my first book. I am so excited to meet more experienced writers here and learn more!” Having an answer like this speaks positively to yourself and to others about you, you are owning where you are at with confidence, and it gives the other person an opportunity to share some tips with you.
Be honest with yourself. What is the worst that could happen? Is it worth missing an opportunity to attend? Attending will bring you a step stronger in overcoming the fear. If your goal is to chat to two people, then regardless of everything else, you will have achieved your goal. If chatting with a well-known agent or writer feels too daunting right now, you could always start smaller - chat with someone who doesn’t fit a ‘big name’ category and appears easy to approach.
Social tips at an event
Consider having something to hold. It could be an order of events flier, a glass of something or a clutch purse. It stops you from standing with your hands in your pockets, thus appearing more approachable. It also gives you something to do with your hands. If it is a private party, offering to help pass food and drinks around is a good way to connect with people and then have an excuse to leave if you run out of things to say.
Find a reason to talk to someone. It could be to ask for a direction, comment casually on the decor or simply go up to someone and chat. I remember attending a wedding reception where I didn’t know any guests. I walked straight up to a group of people and exclaimed, “Hi! I don’t know anyone here. Do you mind if I chat with you?” They brought me into their conversation.
Focus on the other person. So often the reason we feel uncomfortable is that we are busy focusing on ourselves and how we might look. If you focus on and show interest in the other person it will help you feel more relaxed and appear more open.
When talking to another person, ask open questions. At a networking event for authors, it could be, “How did you hear about this event?” Consider paraphrasing back to them. This helps others feel heard and can lead to further conversation. In the above example if the person responded, “I heard about it through another author friend,” a response could be, “Sounds like you have a resourceful friend!” Finding areas of commonality can also help a person to feel more connected to you.
Finally, remember the wonderful person that you are and don’t be too hard on yourself. The mere fact you attended an event is a step outside of your comfort zone. You are as important as the next person, regardless of what you and they have or have not accomplished. Chances are, others are as nervous as you are about being there and they are hoping someone will make the effort to chat to them.