Most people who meet me don’t realise I am an introvert.
I probably even have a few family members who don’t even realise I’m an introvert.
And that is because I’m that not-so-rare social introvert.
This means that while I love socialising, I also need my alone time to recharge – physically, mentally and emotionally.
Let me also hasten to add, I am selectively social. There are times I make a massive effort, there are times (many times) when it’s all just far too hard. This is when I say no to social activities. Don’t take it personally.
The times I make my social side shine are for events like weddings, activities organised or hosted by people who are important to me, and conferences and other events where I feel like I should do some networking. Rather than just standing quietly in the corner. Which is often all I really want to do.
I’ve previously written about how to decide which networking events or professional development opportunities to accept. This is even more important for an introvert, as it can often take that little extra push to actually get there on the day.
So. How do you make the most of a networking opportunity once you’ve turned up to the activity? Because, let’s face it, if you’re going to be out of your comfort zone with a big crowd of strangers, you may as well make a good go of meeting people!
Networking is a skill, and something that comes naturally to very few people. I consider myself to be excellent at networking, but I have also spent an enormous amount of time practicing, not to mention pushing myself way out of my comfort zone in order to develop this skill.
Despite this, there are many times I still find it hard. As I’m an introvert.
I’ll never forget the day my boss in first now-I’ve-finished-uni-and-no-longer-have-to-work-in-retail-or-hospitality job told me she wanted me to be the face of the business – she told me this as she packed me off to a networking event.
On. My. Own.
At an event where I would know NO ONE.
Thanks Gail. I nearly quit that day!
She must have felt my fear, as she told me I only needed to stay for one drink, say hello to one person, and give away and collect one business card . Never have I drunk a glass of wine so quickly! I think I was out of there within about 11 minutes.
I went to a lot of events for her that year, and it did get easier. By the time I left that job three years later I could go to an industry networking event and recognise at least 25% of the faces in the room.
Even today I say yes to events and then, when the day rolls around, I just don’t want to go. As a former event and conference organiser (I know, ironic isn’t it!) I hate it when people bail at the last minute, so if I can’t cancel my RSVP more than 48 hours before, I make an effort to turn up. Sometimes I do send grovelling last minute apologies, and I just hope the organiser understands.
My networking tips for introverts (and yes,many of these apply to extroverts too) are:
- Find out who else you know is going so you have a back up person to talk to if meeting strangers is too hard on the day. With so many events now registering people online, it’s far easier to see who is going to be there, as often online lists are created. Some fabulous event organisers will even create a twitter list or a Facebook group of attendees so you can start the conversation before you meet! How cool is that?? I’m going to the ProBlogger event later this week and I have met about 100 other attendees online through the Facebook group and by following the hashtag (#pbevent) on twitter.
- Ideally, invite an extroverted friend to attend the event with you, so they can do all the hard work involved when meeting strangers, and then get them introduce you!
- However, don’t just hang around with your friends. Presumably you have gone to a networking event to network. So go and meet people! And yes, as an introvert I do know this can be difficult. Just talk to one new person. Please! It does get easier with practice.
- Have a plan. Depending on the type of event, I generally plan to meet – and have a conversation with – a specific number of people. It might be 1, it might be 10, if it’s a multi-day conference, it might be 30. The actual number depends on how much time will be allocated for networking, the format of the event and my mood at the time! Try and have a look at the attendee list so you can see who will be there and where they are from – this can help you can target specific people.
- If you are terrified or simply exhausted from too many people, set yourself a limit. One drink, two conversations, staying for 30 minutes. I find this helps, and it’s a practice I still use.
- Think of a few ice-breakers to initiate conversation. I often walk up to a group of three or four people and say “Hi, I’m Mel, I don’t know anyone here, can I join in your conversation please”. It also works if you see another person on their lonesome (also likely to be an introvert), in which case I might say “Hi, I’m Mel, I saw you standing by yourself so thought I’d come and chat”.
- Take LOTS of business cards – there is nothing more frustrating than meeting someone interesting and having to rely on them to contact you because THEY don’t have a card. Don’t be one of those people. Please.
- Try and learn something about the people you meet. Don’t just fling around as many cards around as you can! You are better off meeting five people and finding out something about them so that a relationship can be established, rather than “meeting” 25 people you just give a card to. Be genuine about who you are when you are talking to people. Show interest in who they are and what they do. It’s not ALL about you! As an introvert I also really hate talking about myself to strangers, so I make sure I have a list of questions to ask about the person I’ve just met.
- Followup within a day or so. This can be as simple as sending an email saying you enjoyed meeting them. Or perhaps sending an interesting article you found that is about something they are interested in. Don’t send them reams of information about your business and how you want to work with them – unless they asked for it.
- Don’t drink too much alcohol at a networking or industry function. I know that one glass of wine definitely dulls a few of my introverted inhibitions, but beware of having that second or third glass! It doesn’t take much to ruin a hard-earned reputation. And no one really wants to talk to the tipsy chick or the drunk dude who is starting to slur words.
- Have fun!
What are your thoughts on networking? Do you find it hard? Does the very word fill you with fear? Or make you bounce around with excitement? What do you do to make the most out of networking events?
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