How many times have you stood at the entrance to a networking mixer frozen in fear? “A root canal would be easier than this,” you say to yourself. Having to make small talk with strangers, trying to be interesting and charming, is not your strength nor your idea of a good time. But you believe that if you can just endure this for an hour, you might walk away with some valuable new contacts. The reality is that your discomfort often has negative results, and you don’t gain the new relationships you had sought.
In the 1930s, Swiss psychologist Carl Jung coined the term introvert as someone who tends to find his psychological energy within… in the world of thought, contemplation and reflection. This inward focus can result in a tendency to pull back and maintain a safe distance, especially around new people.
In the world of networking, introverts can face a long list of daunting challenges – not the least of which is sending nonverbal messages that may be misinterpreted as aloofness. And “aloof” is not a good message when your purpose is to mix, mingle, and foster new relationships.
As a card-carrying introvert myself (by Jung’s definition), I’ve developed some guidelines that have always worked well and have allowed me to be confident and outgoing at networking events. Practice these, and you will soon become the “master of the mixer”:
1. Create a plan before each event: “Winging it” never works for introverts, because spontaneity is not usually a strength. So having a plan can greatly boost confidence.
o Do some pre-work before the event. Think about who will be there and who you would like to meet.
o Make a list of goals before you leave the house – how many new contacts do you want to make tonight? How will you approach them? Prepare for “small talk” by reviewing current events in your head; take a mental assessment of recent books you’ve read, movies you’ve seen, or interesting stories you’ve heard — always good conversation starters and fillers for awkward moments.
2. Enter the room with a purpose and a plan: Most of us feel uncomfortable during the first few moments when we enter a networking event, particularly if we don’t know anyone.
o First, think positive, powerful thoughts “I am energetic, confident and successful. Tonight I will meet (3, 5, 10) people who will be helpful to my business or others in my network.” By thinking and visualizing positive situations, your energy will draw others to you; it’s a law of nature!
o If there is no greeter to make you feel more comfortable, take a moment to stand at the entrance and survey the room (As though you are looking for someone…). Be aware of your body language; don’t slump or try to disappear into the woodwork, but enter with authority. Pretend you are the king or queen making your grand entrance, and your body language will say that you are confident and approachable.
o As you enter, get the lay of the land and look specifically for three things: (a) the buffet, (b) the bar, and/or (c) someone sitting or standing alone. Choose one of these as your target, so that when you make your journey across the room, you have a goal and are not awkwardly meandering around.
(a) The buffet line is always a good place to meet people. Make a mental note of anything interesting and just “think out loud” to the person next to you. “Incredible ice sculpture,” you could comment. Or, “Wow, I didn’t know shrimp came in this size!” She will have to respond in some way, and you can follow with, “Is this your first _____ event?” The conversation will easily flow from there.
(b) Same thing at the bar — While waiting in line, strike up a conversation, “Wow… this already looks like a great event; I didn’t expect so many people. Have you been here before?”
(c) Once you have your food or drink in hand (Only occupy one hand; keep one free for shaking),
approach the person sitting alone, and say with a smile, “Mind if I join you?”
3. Ask questions, listen carefully, and don’t worry about selling yourself: The most charming and fascinating people are the greatest listeners. Listening also gives you an advantage in uncovering potential customers or job prospects.
o Ask the person about her business; about hobbies, family, city of origin, etc. It’s very probable that somewhere in that conversation you will uncover a need, and you will be able to help her find an answer or resource.
o Armed with information, you can say, “Oh! So your brother is looking for a home in the area? I know a great (realtor, landscaper, plumber).”
o By giving before asking, you encourage people to trust you, and they will feel an unconscious need to reciprocate by sending business or resources to you as well.
Once we introverts practice the simple principles of planning our approach; reviewing topics for conversation; and taking the spotlight off ourselves by focusing it on other people, we’ll not only become more comfortable in networking situations, but may find ourselves the life of the party!