Art director Mal Sobczak on navigating the creative industry as an introvert
As office life and IRL networking become the norm again, the introverts among us may be having a tougher time readjusting to in-person interactions and meetings after working from home full-time. Mal Sobczak, art director for creative agency Ultra Brand Studio and self-proclaimed introvert, knows this feeling all too well. But instead of viewing the return negatively, Mal has reframed her introversion into what she calls a “superpower” when connecting with others. Here, Mal shares her journey of how she got to this point, as well as tips on how to adapt – and thrive – in the creative industry as an introvert.
You come to a brainstorming session with your notebook full of ideas. The conversation and ideas are in full swing, and you’re waiting for the right time to vocalise your thoughts. Time passes, and eventually, someone wins everyone over with an idea: one you’ve had in your head. And then the session ends.
I have been in this exact situation: beating myself up for not speaking during meetings; forcing myself to brainstorm with other creatives and not enjoying it. The reality is that if you are a quiet person, it is usually seen as a weakness and that you lack confidence. Unfortunately, the way our modern workplace is built appears to favour the outspoken and outgoing types.
“The way our modern workplace is built appears to favour the outspoken and outgoing types.”
I used to want to be a model ‘people person’, and constantly compared my actions with that personality. Then the pandemic hit. The pause on IRL activities helped me press the restart button, allowing me to really reflect on what’s right for me as an introvert and how to fully engage with others. Now, I use my introversion as a superpower – even in loud environments. Here are some tips I’ve found useful in my journey to reclaiming it.
Mal’s tips on thriving in the creative industry as an introvert
📝 Use notes to prepare for presentations and interactions
Whether you’re more reserved because you get nervous presenting to a group of people, or simply find it hard to think fast on your feet in meetings, prepare your thoughts before these interactions by using notes. I used to hide my presentation notes from my colleagues, feeling embarrassed that I had to use them... until I accepted that no one judges me for this and that most people find them useful.
There are many ways to use notes seamlessly:
- Note-taking apps like Notion or Evernote can help you organise all your thoughts into different groups for various types of interactions, whether they’re quick chats or longer discussions.
- Google Slides has a presenter view where you can read each slide’s speaker notes.
- When using a presentation program such as Keynote, pairing your device with your laptop means you can share your work while glancing at your notes.
- And if you prefer to do it the traditional way, pen and paper will do the job too! Use note cards with bullet points to jog your memory, so you won’t have to squint or constantly look down at your writing.
🗣 Speak with purpose
I used to be constantly preoccupied with the thought that I was being too quiet in conversations, and fill any silence with a nervous laugh, or yeses and umms. However, once I stopped comparing myself to extroverted personalities and accepted myself for who I am, the focus on the silence vanished. Now, I concentrate on listening, analysing the information said and forming a strong point that will add to the conversation.
It’s more important to say something with purpose than to simply fill the silence. Pause if you have to gather your thoughts, slow down if you are nervous and use fewer words to be clear and get straight to the point.
🔋 Recharge and replenish
We all need a break to replenish and regain our power. The body’s energy is like a battery; if you want to maintain a full charge, you have to properly maintain and periodically recharge it.
Create boundaries for yourself and make your diary your friend, not your enemy. Figure out if you really have time for your post-work activities – whether it’s evening freelance work, adding that extra project to your busy afternoon or mentoring a foundation student. Don’t feel the need to say yes to everything.
Find time to take care of your body and mind; make sure to do things that bring you joy and comfort. This for me usually involves moving my body – whether it’s taking a long walk in nature, doing a yoga class – I usually look up yoga nidra on YouTube – or meditation using apps like Headspace or Calm.
🕵️ Find an environment that works for you
Personality types fall on a spectrum. You may slide towards introversion or extroversion, or you may be an ambivert (a bit of both). Wherever you place yourself on this scale, find out which environment you feel more comfortable interacting with people in.
Let’s say you’re starting out as a freelancer and want to secure more clients. Attend some in-person networking events to see how you feel about them. And if you dislike them, there are many other ways to do it – whether it’s introducing yourself to someone via LinkedIn, joining an online group that connects creatives with new opportunities (such as the New Gen Biz network), going to a Portfolio Review or simply focusing on growing your social media presence.
Know that networking doesn’t have to always happen only at networking events. You could even do a combination of some of these methods; for instance, connecting with someone online before arranging a one-to-one in-person meet-up. Figure out which approach will help you to interact with others in your own way, on your own terms.
Written by Mal Sobczak