Do you hate turning your camera on for Zoom calls? Do you loathe the idea of piping up with ideas in the middle of a video call, or worse, accidentally cutting someone off? Does the thought of picking up the phone fill you with mortal dread? Then you may well be an introvert.
What is an introvert?
I define introversion not as an aversion to people, but as a threshold. I know I can communicate effectively with a certain number of people in a day, almost like a quota. Once that quota is filled, any interaction outside of it is going to drain my battery. Where extroverts thrive in the company of others, introverts need alone time.
At this point, a sensible question would be “why are you doing public relations”? Honestly, because when I saw the advert looking for a “PR and Communications Intern” I naively focused more on the communications side of things - I’m a writer, how hard could it be? Also frankly because I needed a job that wasn’t waitressing (a hellish profession for people of introverted dispositions).
I survived and I’ve been doing this for almost a year now. I’ve learnt a lot about myself along the way - how you communicate professionally has implications outside of work. For example, responding to emails in a timely fashion has made me more readily responsive to friends. But it didn’t come easily initially. Sometimes you just have to face unproductive introverted tendencies head-on and find a way to work with them or dispel them for good. I have a few tips I’ve picked up along the way about being an introvert in an extrovert’s job.
Reading the room
I saw a lot of smug posturing from self-professed introverts at the beginning of the pandemic expressing sentiments such as “I barely leave my house anyway, I’m loving lockdown!” to which I would say… read the room. But maybe that’s just the point; “reading the room” is so much harder digitally. In some ways lockdown has eliminated certain conditions of the workplace that introverts struggle with - water-cooler small talk doesn’t exist anymore and a lack of personal space in open-plan offices is a concern of the past.
In a lot of ways, however, the pandemic has exacerbated the situations introverted people find difficult; conversations don’t have the right cadence, people cut each other off mid-sentence, you freeze in the middle of an important presentation and so on. If people have difficulty communicating in person, they’re probably going to find it tougher over a video call. I also think it’s easier to make a point in a meeting when you’re physically present - you can hear lulls in conversation and decide on your moment to strike. Over video, it’s likely that the loudest person in the room will more readily dominate the conversation. So, what to do as the quiet one in the corner wanting to voice an idea?
Let it all go!
I like to bring notes to my meetings with key bullet points of what I want to say written down. It helps organise and focus me so I’m not left stammering if I suddenly draw a blank. On that note, looking stupid isn’t the worst thing in the world! It happens to everyone, myself included. At the end of the day, this is a creative industry. Sometimes you just have to throw ideas at the wall and see what sticks. If your idea doesn’t work, all that will happen is it gets left at the table. That’s it! If you accidentally cut someone off, it’s not the end of the world. Just apologise and offer them the opportunity to speak.
I think as introverts we can be a little self-indulgent and navel-gazey sometimes - I’ll replay an “agonising” social faux pas a dozen times in my head before I go to sleep, but usually the other people involved have forgotten or simply don’t care enough to carry it with them. You don’t have time to dwell on every niggling discomfort, it will hinder you and avoidance may even prevent you from forming a future relationship. Let it all go!
I used to have to take bookings on the phone at the restaurant I worked in and it was my least favourite part of the job so you can imagine my horror on the day my boss told me to ring around to follow up with journalists. Everyone has different opinions about how PRs should get in touch with prospective journalists. Many journalists will specify that they wish to be pitched via email, in which case, respect their wishes. You won’t do yourself any favours by coming off as pushy or, worse, illiterate. HOWEVER, If the journalist hasn’t specified preferences and their phone number is in a media database? Fair game. Some will say it’s intrusive, others will say it’s the only way to get results. My boss is in the latter category and I’m inclined to agree with her.
90% of the cold calls I make go unanswered but the ones that do pick up have yielded fruitful conversations for me. In fact, the most productive relationships I have with journalists now are all ones who I’ve spoken to on the phone and later by video or WhatsApp call. Calls build relationships and that’s the nature of the game we’re in. Sure, it’s nerve-wracking to meet someone in the microcosm of their computer screen, especially when you want something from them, like earned coverage. But beyond the walls of the screen there is a person and they’re probably not as scary as you think. But what if they are genuinely scary and rude? I once had a journalist slam the phone down on me. I was taken aback at first but has it affected me in the long run? No. And you’ll bounce back from a shirty message, I promise.
Those who dare, win
Bottom line is that worrying about whether or not you’ve said the right thing, whether you said it in the right way, whether they’ll be annoyed at you for getting in touch in the first place, is exhausting! You can’t possibly know or predict how people will react to you so you might as well be bold and try to get what you want. Those who dare, win!
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February 8, 2021