A week ago I presented at 300 Seconds, a new series of lightning talks to encourage more women to speak at events. This post is the blog version of that talk.

I’m quite a busy person.

I’m a developer at Unboxed Consulting, I organize events at Geeks of London and (obviously) I write this blog. What this means though is that I end up attending a ton of events. Hackdays, conferences, PR events, conventions and meetups in all different shapes and sizes. Plus there’s the stuff I’ve got a hand in organizing too, like HACKED and BarcampBerkshire.

At most of those events I am Miss Geeky; my blog is my brand, my identity and my event persona. I’m constantly meeting and interacting with a lot of different people; promoting my blog, pitching my events and talking about my work.

So people are often quite surprised when they hear that I consider myself a massive introvert.

But why?

Melinda

I realized that most people don’t have a good understanding of what introversion and extraversion is. Typically they think that being an introvert means you’re quiet and shy, while being an extrovert is seen as being social and outgoing. And that’s not exactly right.

For me, introversion and extraversion is all about energy: what recharges you and what drains you? Extroverts find energy in interaction: they recharge by being around people, by interacting with what’s outside themselves. Introverts, on the other hand, will get their energy from reflection: they recharge by looking inwards, by being alone. So this does mean that extroverts will be much more likely to be social and outgoing, and that introverts will be much more likely to be quiet and shy. But that’s not always the case. You can have extroverts that are shy. And you can have introverts that are social and outgoing.

My term for this group of social introverts: social caterpillars.

We’re like social butterflies, jumping from one event to the next, being social and outgoing, only: we have to work a whole lot harder for our moments of butterflyery-ness (that word works so much better when said out loud. And no, Autocorrect, I did not mean “butterfly princess”).

So how do you recognize a social caterpillar in the wild? For now, I’ve come up with 4 characteristics, but this is still a work in progress:

Cocoon

Every caterpillar needs a cocoon. At busy events, we will need a moment to retreat back into ourselves. Depending on the social caterpillar, this can manifest in different ways: a breath of fresh air outside, a long toilet break or even intensely staring at your phone pretending you’ve got something urgent to respond to (while you’re just checking Twitter). It’s all about having a moment completely to yourself, even if you find yourself in the midst of a crowd.

Caterpillar!!

Antenna

We enjoy interaction, but this doesn’t necessarily have to happen face-to-face. Thanks to social networks, social caterpillars can move the energy draining activities to the online world. Plus it allows us to digest the interaction asynchronously, making connections before or after an event. We’ll also often be the ones live tweeting, photographing or blogging about the event, which as an extra benefit allows us to hide and retreat behind our gadgets.

Consume

Caterpillars consume their environment. My interpretation: social caterpillars will analyze their surroundings, using all their senses to their advantage. We’ll research the events we’re going to, figure out beforehand who will be there and what they do and who might be potentially interesting to meet. We’ll observe and listen until we figure out the best way to approach a certain situation.

Fly

We will have our moments of being butterflies. We’ll be social and outgoing, meeting and interacting with new people, talking about the things we love, organizing our own events and doing whatever we feel comfortable doing. And pushing ourselves to do things we might not fully feel comfortable with, like giving a presentation at an event and talking for 300 seconds about how you are an introvert…

So, yeah: I’m an introvert. And I’m a social caterpillar.

If you ever see me at an event and I’m running away in the other direction, don’t take it personally. I just need some space and time to become that butterfly.

I’m curious to hear from you now. Would you consider yourself an introvert or extrovert? Or somewhere in between? And all you social caterpillars out there: tell me your stories! What do you do during the events? Let me know on Twitter using the hashtag #SocialCaterpillars or leave a comment below!

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