Picture the scene. You enter a room. The room has windows and doors, sometimes music and usually drinks. People fill this room, talking, smiling, and bunched in groups like a Roman Tortoise Shield formation.
This is no start to some mind-boggling brain teaser. No. This is something FAR worse. This is a networking event. Enough to send shivers down the spine of any self-respecting introvert.
Networking is a necessity in business. Nothing new there – it always has been. It would also appear to identify oneself as an introvert is almost fashionable these days. Hell, even Buzzfeed has picked up the ball and run with it – stick that in your evidence pipe and smoke it. But what is an introvert, and how could one navigate this networking hell they find themselves in?
What is an introvert?
Dictionary.com defines the word as “Introvert is a term introduced by Carl Jung, to describe a person whose motives and actions are directed inward. Introverts tend to be preoccupied with their own thoughts and feels and minimize their contact with other people.” To flesh this out with some A-Level psychology tekkers – this also has a lot to do with the neurotransmitter of the moment – dopamine.
Introverts have a naturally high level of dopamine, and as such, do not feel the need to gain further stimulation from the outside from socialising, adrenaline sports etc. Conversely, extroverts have lower levels of dopamine, and therefore need to increase their levels by gaining stimulation from the outside. Loud music, new people, running, jumping talking – it’s all good for an extrovert. That’s why something like a networking event would appeal, as it naturally plays to the strengths of an extroverts chemistry.
So, what can an introvert do to successfully smash networking?
The first thing to say is no one thing will work for everyone, these are simple tips learned from attending events, but also organising them. Some might help, others will not.
Hello is the hardest word
As every blog post needs late 1900 pop references. Celine Dion sung ‘Goodbye is the saddest word’, but really, it was Lionel Richie who had it right, with ‘Hello’. Hello is by far the hardest part of any conversation at a networking event.
Once you’ve got past this, have some follow up questions – what do you do, how are you finding the event, where are you from? They all get the ball rolling – don’t think you need to waltz in and launch into philosophy immediately.
Most people in the room feel the same
Think you’re unique in not feeling comfortable? Sorry Jack – probably half the room are in the same boat. There aren’t many people I have spoken to who actively relish the prospect of walking into a room of strangers.
With this knowledge, you should feel empowered – everyone is likely going to want to talk as they feel equally nervous. Remember your relief when that stranger said hello to you and you could stop looking at your phone awkwardly and do what everyone else was doing? Well this time, be the stranger who says hello in the first place.
Don’t label yourself or networking itself
I have had less than 10 conversations with people on this very topic. At least 8 of them at some point in the conversation identified their introversion as a barrier to successful networking. By doing this, they are fulfilling their own prophecy, as inevitably when put into networking situations, they act in textbook introvert ways. Appreciate you are complex and better in some situations than others – but embrace this weakness and use it as a platform to build it into a strength.
This same point applies to networking itself. The term is used as a convenient term to describe an activity, but when broken down, all it is, is talking to another human. Remove the fear of networking by removing the angst around the label.
Do something different
I know people who wear loud shirts as a talking point at conferences. Others will make a joke on their name badge. Again, this is just one of those things that can get the proverbial networking rocks rolling downhill.
Asking questions is as good as talking
Oh the pressure. What if they think I’m dumb. What if I don’t have anything to say? I’m definitely the dumbest person in this room.
The pressure to add something interesting to a conversation is huge. Many people overestimate the importance of clever comments, and underestimate the great thing about questions. All too often a networking conversation becomes a shouting match between two people trying to outsmart people. Leave your ego at the door and actually come to listen and learn. By asking questions, not only are you keeping the conversation going – you’re doing networking right as you are learning something new about someone new.
Recharge when you need to
There are no two ways about it – networking is exhausting – especially for an introvert. Recharging is a popular word associated with introverts, and probably a good one. I actually sometimes imagine myself charging up as I gain a breather from the hubbub going on in the room next to me. If you need to recharge, do it, but don’t let this time distract from why you are there. We only grow by stretching our comfort zones – so make sure once you’ve taken a moment to throw yourself back into the lions den. You’ll feel great for it.
The final one is a bit of a dud. But it’s also a truth. Without practice, you will never get better. Get up on that networking horse and keep on improving your skills. Level up and become a networking monarch. You’re on your way, and you’re doing great.
What are your tips for successful networking? Any success/or horror stories? Let me know. I’d love to hear them.