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Networking Tips from a Recovering Introvert
I attended a conference of innovative tech startups this past week in Hong Kong. I got up-to-speed on the disruptive trends shaping technology. I met several founders and CEOs of some of the hottest new companies on the planet. And I made some new friends.
To make the most of this event, I had to put into play some of the techniques I’ve learned over the years to help me get over my inclination in my younger days to spend more time one-on-one with people, while avoiding large groups.
You see, I’m considered an “INTJ” in the Meyers-Briggs universe of personality types. Without dissecting what this acronym means here, simply put, it means that I lean toward the “introvert” end of the personality spectrum.
This does not mean, as such a label might imply, that I don’t enjoy meeting new people. Quite the contrary: I love to establish new connections and make new friends, particularly when I get the chance to meet people in person, and not just through social media platforms like LinkedIn or Twitter.
But as a recovering introvert, I’ve had to be more deliberate about my networking efforts — particularly at large events like the one I attended last week, where I can quickly feel like I’m swallowed up in a sea of people.
I’ve gotten a lot better at networking at conferences over the years, and today I feel pretty comfortable meeting new people at such events. But it hasn't always come so naturally; I didn’t get to where I'm at today without a little bit of study and a lot of practice.
Here are a few tips for networking at large events:
Have a plan
While a lot of networking at large conferences is spontaneous, of course, I still like to have some specific relationship-building goals in mind. I try to go into a conference knowing whom I’d like to meet, when and where I might be able to meet them, and the one or two things I’d like to get out of my meeting with them. Most conference organisers offer speaker and attendee bios on their websites or on a mobile app. This is useful information that you can mine as you craft your networking plan.
Prepare your elevator pitch
There’s going to be a certain level of repetition to the type of questions you’ll be asked when you meet someone new at a conference, and the type of questions you’ll want to ask in return. Try to nail your “elevator pitch” beforehand — the succinct description of who you are and what you do. I try to convey two or three pieces of basic information that cover what I do in my day job, my personal passions or projects outside of work, and the reason why I’m at the conference. Similarly, I try to ask these few bits of basic information of everyone I meet.
Don’t wait for introductions
I had told the conference organisers last week that I wanted them to introduce me to one of the higher profile attendees. For whatever reason, such an introduction never happened. Seeing my one chance to meet this person potentially slip away if I didn’t take the initiative, I stepped up to him and introduced myself. Contrary to whatever assumptions I held about his approachability until then, he was very warm and engaging, and we had a great conversation and exchanged contact information and a promise to follow-up with each other about a project I’m undertaking.
While you’ll need to try harder to take the initiative to meet people you want to meet, you’ll also want to send a signal that you are approachable as well. Here are a few things I like to do to communicate this important, but non-verbal message:
Mix and mingle
I like to go deep in my conversations with some of the people I meet, but sometimes at the risk of spending a little too much time with one or two people while missing out on meeting other people.
While there’s no hard and fast rule about how long you should talk to someone — and there shouldn’t be, of course— I do try to mix and mingle at conferences so I can meet more people.
Rotating seats at a table so you can meet more people at the table you’re sitting at — or switching to a different table altogether — is one tactic that smart event organizers use to facilitate interactions among attendees at dining events. Of course, you shouldn't wait for your host to ask you to get up and move.
Take time to recharge
Large events can be draining on introverts, which is why you should recharge if you feel your energy levels ebbing. This could be simply stepping outside to grab some fresh air and some time alone, or even taking a power nap in your hotel room (which can be particularly helpful if you’re suffering from jet lag).
I try to visualise having my own personal battery as a way to monitor my energy levels. Being conscious of my own energy levels — and not just obsessing about the little power bar on my smartphone — reminds me that I too need to recharge from time to time.
What I’ve come to understand over the years is that I’m not the only one who needs to psyche myself up to get into networking mode. I’m not the only introvert out there. This could explain why some people won’t take the initiative to reach out, and why I need to take that first step if I want to meet them.
So take the initiative. Extend your hand. Smile. And start meeting new people. You never know: some of them might change the course of your career — or even become life-long friends.
By Glenn Leibowitz