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!

7 Comments

MacGirlAdventures says:

You have just described me perfectly! I defintely consider myself an introvert, for just the same reasons that you have mentioned, but I am sociable. At a large event I need 10 minutes to myself every now and then to recharge. After a long day at an event (I’m head official for a sports team) I need a day at home, on my own to get myself back into a space where I can work and analysis what went on. Everyone always told me I couldn’t be an introvert because I’m not always quiet and shy, I am so happy to have found someone who understands where I am coming from, thank you :)

annkempster says:

Thanks for writing this up! Loved seeing this at 300 seconds last week.

This is definitely me! I can happily stand up and host an event like I did on last Tuesday night or even day long events where I mingle and meet new people. But come the end of the event, I’ve got to get home and rest and be quiet. Day long events wipe me out entirely. I finally figured all this out a few months ago after having read Quiet by Susan Cain. Never knew why I got so tired, but it’s all the stimulation and having to perform as an extrovert that does it.

Nice to know we’re not alone!

Liz Eden says:

Really interesting. I’ve previously heard of introvert-ism described as relating to how you derive value, whether from a personal sense of satisfaction, or external feedback. But your energy analogy works really well. I have been (trying to) force myself into more social events and be more outgoing, but I do find it a very draining experience, and it doesn’t take much to make me scurry back to my cocoon! I can ‘fly’ if I feel adequately prepared and confident but only for very short bursts.

Re feeling alone: I would guess that lots of people feel similarly, but I think sometimes we have a tendency to imagine we are out on limb by ourselves when really lots of people are feeling the same way. All we can ever see of other people is their behaviour, not how they are feeling. So the shy person forcing themsleves to engage with other people appears, if they are successful, to be indistinguishable from the confident, outgoing person to whom it’s second nature. At any given event there are probably lots of people feeling nervous, awkward and dysfunctional, but trying to put on a brave face!

Jane O'Loughlin says:

Great blog post and I really enjoyed your talk at #300secs as well – really insightful and I have ended up having a few conversations with people about it when I told them about your talk. One conversation was about someone who didn’t want to be labelled as either introvert or extrovert. Someone else who wasn’t sure how to define themselves. I think that we all have a bit of both and use both for different situations.
Just read Ann’s comments about feeling exhausted after events, and I am pretty similar, so must read ‘Quiet’ now.

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