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Crowds, Chaos, and Cocktail Hours

The 4 P's for Surviving in the Lion's Den

Like many introverts, I have grown to loathe the 3 C's: conferences, conventions, and cocktail hours. Now I'm getting ready to return to the Lion's Den this week. But this time I'm prepared and hope for better results than one of my many examples from the past, this one in Lima, Peru:

In 2005 I transferred to London on an ExPat assignment. The family experience was amazing and my global business travel was generally a silver lining. But the social pressures of the job nearly broke me.

“After an amazing weekend touring Machu Picchu in the countryside of Peru, Oliver and I arrived in Lima for an industry LPG conference. I was thrust into the heart of my kryptonite: cocktail socials with people I hardly knew - amidst a crowd of seasoned veterans. Furthermore, I was also tasked with introducing Oliver to key counterparts. I was overwhelmed with the responsibility.

“Hello,” I interjected as I nudged us into a small group conversation. We often received no more than stares, as they appeared offended at our intrusion into their friendships. Feeling any confidence slipping, I took advantage of a brief moment of silence.

“Hello, this is Oliver and I’m Steve. We’re with Shell’s LPG team.”

In the pit of my stomach, I was scared. I was overcome by fear.

A bit awkward, but perhaps we were now part of the conversation? However, often they would just nod and continue within their own group. Other times they might lob a question our way: “How do you see natural gas production impacting LPG supply in Latin America?”

It felt like an opportunity to earn our way into the group and seemed better than idle chitchat. However, as a newcomer to the market, my rambling response made it clear I had failed their test. They returned to their discussion of old times together and their plans for dinner or drinks later that evening. Clearly, I had not earned an invitation to either.

Oliver seemed to sympathize with my struggles as I abruptly backed out of the group, only to have to walk the floor in search of a welcoming face to approach next, which rarely presented itself. I grabbed another drink to try to relieve the tension, but I could not drink enough that night to soften my approach. I continued to torment myself for hours that seemed like days of pain.

I wrote an email to Jennifer later that evening: “It zapped my energy just trying to maintain such a façade. Jennifer, I describe myself lately as puny, timid, socially regressive, lazy, stressed, and basically fragile. I’ve never prided myself as a social butterfly, nor do I care to. But lately I feel like more of a social wallflower. Unable to hold even the basic social conversation.”

Realizing the depressed tone of my letter and not wanting to scare Jennifer from halfway around the world, I tried to reassure her: “However, I must emphasize, I’m okay. I’m not going off the deep end.”

But in reality I felt like I was. In the pit of my stomach, I was scared. I was overcome by fear every day: of people, of losing, of speaking, of being quiet, of not providing, of not being enough, of not being courageous.

Excerpt from Chapter 14, STRETCHED, from In Search of Courage

Over the past five years, I've reflected and I've grown. I've learned a lot about introversion and how to embrace many of my strengths to overcome my insecurities. Now I see this week's Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) convention in San Antonio as an opportunity to test how far I've come. The AWP is a huge convention - over 10,000 attendees filling the Convention Center and beyond. So my prep work is even more critical...

My approach is simple...the 4 P's:

1. PERSONAL PRIDE: Who am I? What are my strengths? What are my personal objectives? How will I deal with social stress? I want to be myself! In my past, I had no personal objectives beyond survival...try not to belittle myself with low self-confidence and poor coping skills like binge eating in the hotel room or excessive drinking before and during events.


  • I want to set reasonable priorities and objectives that will build a sense of pride.

  • I will leverage my strengths of preparation and self-awareness while stretching myself at times.

  • If I find myself itching to pound drinks or binge-eat on the between session snacks it's a clear sign I'm overstressed and need a break.

  • It's important for me to be myself. If that helps strike up conversations, great. If other conversations fizzle out quickly, it's not me or him/her, it's just fine...move on.

2. PRIORITIZE: What are my objectives. Regardless of whether the event is a job requirement, it's best to set objectives with yourself and your manager, if applicable. Am I attending to build a network or to learn new skills, or share my expertise with others?


  • My objective is primarily to learn new writing and publishing skills.

  • A secondary objective is to network with editors and designers who may be resources for the publication of future books.

  • A distant third is to network with other writers to share experiences together.

3. PREPARE: I gain comfort from preparation. So I want to consider all facets of my experience. What sessions do I want to attend? How can I gain familiarity with the venue? What is my plan for networking? How can I minimize the stress that may build up? Preparation is definitely key if you are presenting. Check out my Tips for Introverted Speakers on my January 15th blog.


  • I pulled up the list of sessions months ago. I've selected a wide array of topics to meet my learning objective.

  • Most appear to be classroom style, but to prepare for the inevitable discussions, I'm jotting a few bullets for each session - my thoughts and curiosities.

  • In the past I learned to browse the attendee list and set up meetings with key counterparts or at least try to find them at cocktails. However, the size of this convention really isn't conducive for that.

  • I arrive on Wednesday night and plan to register and walk the venue to gain some comfort - identify a coffee shop and a quieter, more private place to escape for respite bit during the day.

  • On my name tag I plan to write "Memoirist" below my name in an effort to invite others to introduce themselves rather than place the onus solely on me.

  • I listened to a great podcast (see IntrovertLink and highlights below) which discusses the value for chitchat, even for introverts, and a great line to kickoff discussions.

  • I've noted cocktail parties on my schedule and am committed to at least make a pass through a couple. However, I am giving myself permission to stay or leave after one circle through the room. These are not critical to meeting my objectives so I plan to participate if I think it will build me up, or pass if I think it will break me down. If I had given myself such permissions years ago, I would have saved myself a lot of grief and most assuredly not missed out on anything important anyway.

4. PRIVACY: Everyone, but especially introverts, need that escape from the social melee, not to mention chaos of a ten thousand person convention. Recognizing this is important, but actually scheduling such private time in advance is critical. Otherwise, we may fail to carve out such time until the battery has completely run out and a sense of overwhelming stress has taken over. This should be part of the prepare and plan process.


  • I will be exercising at the hotel each morning and hope to get at least one exploratory run along the Riverwalk.

  • I'm bringing my laptop and a book to the conference so I can find a quiet corner as needed.

  • I plan to grab a quick breakfast at the hotel, lunch at the convention center dining hall, and a quiet dinner alone each night unless I get an enticing invitation.

I'm excited to learn, nervous of the three day challenge, and anxious to succeed. Wish me luck! I'll report back in next week's blog. In the meantime, I'd love to hear your stories and keys to success by email, Facebook, or our new Beyond Introversion Facebook Group. I'd love to hear from you!





National Absinthe Day – March 05, 2020

March 05 is National Absinthe Day. I selected this day to salute my old traveling days at Shell, when I often overindulged in beer, wine, and spirits to help cope with the stress of a very social and high pressured role. I only had absinthe once (that I recall). It's basically pure grain alcohol (Everclear) with botanicals (flowers) seeped in. I found the claims of hallucinogenic qualities to be true though minimal. I'd never tried any other drugs (pot, or harder drugs), largely out of fear my addictive personality might drag me down a very dark and dangerous path. Perhaps that's why I never tried absinthe again. I hear it's making a comeback, especially in Prague and other Bohemian niches of Europe. Try it at your own risk!



Listen up! Lots of great resources in this week's IntrovertLink.

First, click on the CatRose logo to the right to find The Creative Introvert website which includes links to her blog, podcast, and book. Looking for more resources on your personal journey. Cat is great to add to your list.

Second, I very much enjoyed her recent podcast with Heather Hollick as I researched this week's topic including networking. The podcast can be perfectly paired with a commute or workout, but here are the big 3 takeaways:

  • Chitchat is important- it's a cultural norm that enables two or more people to check each other out. Despite our introvert tendencies, just diving into a deep topic is off-putting. So come prepared with a few topics - sports, weather, non-political current events.

  • Opening line- rather than open with "what do you do?", I'm going to try Hollick's recommendation of "what are you working on?". It seems less formal, a bit more empathetic, and invites more conversation rather than an abbreviated sharing of companies and titles.

  • Network your way- bingo! Hollick emphasizes the importance of knowing your comfort zone and leveraging that while also giving yourself permission to walk away without shame or grief.


Now you can see each amazing 30 seconds!

See more of Jennifer's inspirational creations at


I'd love to hear from you via Facebook, LinkedIn, or Email. You may also want to join our Facebook Group Community to share experiences and gain resources to learn more!

As always, if you sign up on our website, you won't have to chase around to find our blog on social will drop right into your Inbox for you to scan at your leisure. Thanks again!!!


Running Out of Time


AWP Convention Post-Mortem

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