“Just because you don't say much doesn't mean people don't notice you. It's actually the quiet ones who often draw the most attention. There's this constant whirlwind of motion and sound all around, and then there's the quiet one, the eye of the storm."
Yesterday I had the pleasure of presenting at #SmallBizFestVic in Melbourne and as there were thousands in attendance the topic of shying away from networking was something many there could relate to.
There is no doubt that an introvert’s idea of a living hell is attending a networking event. In a recent Buzz Bulletin, I shared some ideas about how introverts can approach networking events from a different perspective.
So now let’s talk about the actual nitty gritty of when you are there at the event, your hands getting clammy (so now you don’t want to shake anyone’s hand!), your throat closing up and your heart racing. Or as I witnessed yesterday, people are preoccupied with mobile devices and sitting alone in corners missing all the possibilities.
It’s no fun to start with but with some practice, you will build your confidence up. The key is understanding what your skills gaps are and working on them, the same way you would a sport or if you were learning a musical instrument. You will only get better with practice.
Not by standing in a corner hoping no one looks at you.
So here are four things you can do at a networking event to break the ice and introduce yourself into a conversation.
1. Say Hi to someone on their own
You know that person standing to the side pretending to check emails on their phone? That’s probably your kindred spirit. Pop over, say hi and ask them if they’re getting any Wi-Fi signal here. Then hold out your hand, introduce yourself and say ‘These sorts of events make me nervous, do you mind if we chat for a bit?”
2. Seek out a sponsor
At lots of events these days, there is always some sort of sponsor exhibiting their products or with a stand or table set up with merchandise and marketing collateral. Head on over there and ask them about their products. Not only will it give you some breathing time but you’ll learn something new and have new information up your sleeve ready for when you meet someone new, “Have you seen the display in the foyer? Some great products there. Would your company use something like that?”
3. Take a seat
When people attend events where there are presenters quite often there is some seating set up. Many introverts take a seat way before the presentation to get out of talking to anyone. That’s fine but why don’t you try something different? Instead of sitting down with miles of empty seats around you, ask someone who is already seated if they would mind if you sat next to them. I did this at a seminar last year where I didn’t know anyone out of the 400 people that were there. I plonked myself down in between two people and introduced myself to them. Turned out one of them had a really interesting job in children’s book publishing, we clicked and now we’re Facebook friends!
4. Get your group on
Be brave and approach a group. Say confidently, “Hi guys would you mind if I joined this group? You look like you’re having a good time.” I guarantee NO ONE will say no. It just doesn’t happen. You’re not in high school anymore. People will not give you ‘the hand’ or turn their backs. They will welcome you in. Once you’re ‘in’ the circle, turn to the person next to you and introduce yourself and then do the same to the person on the other side of you. Contribute where you can and when you feel comfortable.
See? It’s not all bad news. Networking events can actually be quite fun and definitely worthwhile, regardless of your personality type and nerves about meeting new people.
Get that mentor we talked about before, get practising (even if it’s in front of the mirror at home), own those butterflies in your tummy and turn them into nerves of steel.
Before you know it, it will be people introducing themselves to YOU because you look so darn cool, calm and collected. Be the eye in the networking storm.