Welcome to networking for introverts anonymous. Okay, not really. But, I wanted to share some insights that I’ve learned from attending networking events. As an introvert, I’ve not always been great at conversing with new people or people I don’t know well in a networking setting. It is something that I make a cognizant effort to practice, because it doesn’t come naturally to me. I wanted to share the below ideas that came out of a work event that I attended not long ago.
And appropriately. I knew our event was going to be outside and had a “springtime” theme. So, I dug in my closet for something more colorful than my usual winter black. Understand the dress code, check the weather, and find out what others plan to wear. If appropriate, ask the event coordinator.
Make sure you aren’t going to have a “wardrobe malfunction.” Tugging at your clothes all night, for example, isn’t a good look and it’s going to be at the forefront of your mind. How are you going to concentrate on strengthening relationships if your fly keeps coming down? Also, choose something that you look good in and makes you feel good. If you dress well, you feel good, and that makes you feel confident. Confidence is a key ingredient of success.
Do Your Research
Have some questions ready for when you’re struggling. When the conversation goes flat, you will have some ideas on hand to ask. If you know who will be there, great. Do you know that Jason just took a trip to Hawaii? Did Kelly just present an awesome presentation? Remember those pieces of information and talk to the person about it. If you don’t know who will be there, get some generic questions ready: How long have you been at the company? What do you like to do outside of work? How did you hear about this event or organization?
If you know names but haven’t met them, look them up! Take a quick look at their LinkedIn profile. You can usually find some talking points there. You can find out if they volunteer somewhere you’re familiar with, or if they went to the same school as your brother. I know it might sound a little weird to creep on social media, but it gives you an advantage – especially if you’re an introvert. Just try not to advertise you found out about them online.
Be OK with Awkward Silences
I have come to embrace the awkward silences that sometimes pepper my conversations. I never answer questions with a simple “yes” or “no” and I always try to volley with a question or thought. But, sometimes the conversation drops – and that’s OK. A woman I work with is very much an extrovert and her conversations with strangers always seemed so effortless. One day after talking with someone she’d just met in the office, she turned to me and expressed how nervous she had been. I asked how that was true since she’d kept the conversation going so well. She said, “I was nervous so I just kept babbling. I don’t even know what I was talking about!” An introvert’s awkward silences are equivalent to the extrovert’s babbling. Neither are comfortable, but both are natural depending on our personality.
Say Something Within the First Five Minutes
The company I work for coaches women on their executive presence, and part of that is how they show up in meetings. They are coached to speak within the first five minutes of the meeting – to get their voice in the room. I would say the same applies for networking. Say something, anything beyond just your name. Compliment someone, say “I agree,” or ask where someone is from. Be genuine. Get in the conversation and then you will be “in” the circle, instead of on the sidelines waiting for an opening. It’s kind of like waiting outside of the duck, duck, goose circle to be asked to play. You just need to jump in and start playing!
How do you handle networking events? Does being an extrovert or an introvert matter or influence how you conduct conversation?