Updated: Apr 17
Are you an introvert?
I know, I know. I should really ask 'do you have an introverted preference?'...but you get it, right? For brevity, I'm going to say 'introvert' rather than '...an introverted preference'.
I am one of the biggest introverts I know. That can surprise people when they see me facilitate. I love that it surprises them. I feel like I'm doing my bit to fly the flag for us introverts because it's much more complex than just assigning someone a label and putting us into our tiny little restrictive box.
Everyone shines, given the right lighting. Susan Cain
I've been in learning and development for around 20 years and have learned how to both authentically turn up my extraversion and nurture my introverted side in equal measures. It serves me well and helps me to build seriously deep relationships with people.
Let's be clear. Introversion is different to the cultural labels that we often associate with it.
It's not about being meek or mild or shy. Most of us know by now that it's about where we get our energy from - the good old solar powered Vs. battery powered analogy when it comes to interacting with people.
So with that in mind, an introvert like me can still go to a networking event and make a load of new and meaningful connections with people. In fact, you could argue that these connections will have a much deeper foundation than those of, dare I say, my extraverted counterparts.
I'm on my own cheesy X-Factor 'journey' when it comes to networking. I do lots of it hiding from behind my computer and phone screens. I know that I need to push myself to do it more IRL, and that's what I've been doing over the last 12 months.
Here's what I've learned so far:
Make sure your battery is 100% charged up beforehand. For me, when I can, I make sure I have a couple of hours before to mentally prepare myself. Most of the events I attend are in the early evening and so I never arrange to see friends afterwards because quite simply, I know I'll be peopled-out.
Do some homework on picking the right event for you. Be selfish about what you want to get from it. You're certainly investing your time and usually your money for this stuff. I've been to some shockers, full of horrendous elevator pitches and people talking at me about how brilliant they are. Still, they've given me an insight into what definitely doesn't work for me.
Be ready to turn up your extraversion a little. For me, this might look like getting involved in one of those initially-awkward conversations rather than standing in the corner pretending to look at my phone (please come and say hello if we are ever at the same event, because I probably am pretending).
Stop worrying about delivering the perfect one minute introduction. The people who tell us we need to do this have a lot to answer for. Some of the worst events I've been to have been full of people there for one thing - to hawk their wares to anyone who catches their eye. Simply: Have. A. Conversation. Listen more than you talk. Ask more than you tell. Show a bit of interest and try to quiet the voice in your head that might be screaming 'what am I going to say next?!'
Challenge yourself with a target. It could be to meet (x) new people or to give away (x) of those fancy business cards that are burning a hole in your pocket. You might achieve your goal and feel great. Maybe you'll get partway there and know what to do more of for next time. Don't kick yourself, there will be a next time and it will be different. Better to give away a few cards to the right people than your whole supply to people who are going to toss them.
People remember authentic conversations. My inside-head-eyes roll when I'm faced with the clichéd type of 'have you traveled far?' or 'do you come to many of these events?' questions. Sure, they've got a place in starting the conversation but try to get a little deeper than just surface level. I recently got into a fascinating conversation with someone at an event just by asking them "what do you love most about what you do?" Have a couple of questions that work for you that can cover those first couple of minutes and get you into your flow.
Follow-up! Caveat: with the right people who you've made a connection with, not everyone. You've probably swapped digits and e-mails. I'm not talking about the cringeworthy/pitchy LinkedIn message - though do add them on here if you've vibed off each other - just drop them a note to say hi, thanks and maybe let's keep talking.
It might feel hideous beforehand.
Yep, the easiest thing in the world would be to not bother.
Listen to your physiology and what your body is trying to tell you.
What's stopping me?
If you're anything like me, it can be a challenge to stop thinking of it as a game made only for extraverts.
It's not always easy, yet it's powerful when we discover the true power of introversion in networking.
You've got this...go forth and network fellow introverts!