Is it just me or does it seem like this world was imagined, custom built and modified for extroverts?
Technology can only get so far in minimizing human interaction to the deliveryman, the person at the final window in the drive-thru and a magical thing called, “The Internet”.
For the rest of the time, you will have to deal with people… If you’re a budding entrepreneur or someone who wants to move ahead in life, you have to network!
So what can an introvert do in a networking setting to minimize discomfort?
Have a game-plan
You don’t have to automatically get in the middle of the room, pick a crowd and start hobnobbing. You could, if you wanted to, but you should ease your way into the room and scope the place out.
If there’s an open bar, maybe head there first, and who knows, you might start conversing with someone while you’re there.
Pretend that you’re a lion trying to make a kill and you’re looking for the right antelope — the lion rarely picks the slowest antelope, but moreso the easiest to tire out. Don’t get overwhelmed, scope the room out.
Pro tip: Look for someone who is also alone. Getting in with a group that’s already mid-conversation is best reserved for confident networkers. Since we’re doing this to succeed, stick to one person and avoid two people, because they might be having a private conversation.
Once you’ve narrowed in a good target…
Bring them to you
Give this person a gentle smile and lift your eyebrows while nodding. These two actions, nodding and lifting eyebrows, give the other person an impression that you two may have met before.
“Perhaps they don’t remember you, but thank goodness you’re there, because now there’s one more person that they know!”
Hold your eye contact and smile. Resist the urge to look away — this urge is your subconscious mind screaming, “What are you doing? We have to get outta here!” Ignore that and keep holding your gaze and smile.
This perfect stranger will now approach you out of curiosity.
Pro tip: Try to do this to someone who looks different than you. If you’re female, use this technique on a male and if you’re male and in a multicultural setting, do this to someone of a different race.
Why? This will prevent people from assuming that you’re having a private conversation, and you’ll attract a large group to your conversation.
3. Let them do the talking
Now that someone has approached you, their first question is probably going to be, “Have we met?” Answer honestly and let them speak if they have something to say. Hand them your business card.
If, based on their business cards, they seem interesting to you, ask them questions based on your natural curiosity, and reciprocate when they ask you something.
If you notice that the conversation is dulling out and you don’t want them to walk on to the next person that they might deem interesting, allow them to do most of the talking. Ask them a question and if they partially answer it, just remain silent and maintain your eye contact. They will continue answering…
This technique will make them think that you’re a really good listener and are genuinely interested in their industry, niche or position.
Seeing two very different people engaged in conversation will pique the interest of someone else, perhaps an extroverted networker, and they might approach you.
If they do, you’re almost home-free!
4. Make the group do most, if not all, of the work
Once you’ve got a good rhythm going, and are now referring to people in your group by their names, allow them to do most of the talking.
If someone tells a joke and everyone in the group starts laughing, whoever that you look at while laughing will build a stronger bond with you, and gain the impression that the two of you are the closest in the group.
You would have made a very strong impression on them, and didn’t have to speak! Allow the new group dynamic to take over.
Being an introvert is not a curse. While others are busy trying to curry one-another’s favor and make impressions, you’re observing and waiting for the perfect opportunity to speak up.
The problem with this approach is that the opportunity may never come.
Networking is about leaving an impression and taking risks.
Don’t let your fears hold you back from participating in a memorable evening!
Photo credit: Edu Lauton