I am as introverted as they come, particularly when I am out of my element and forced to interact with people that I (gasp) do not know. Confident I'm not the only one, I thought I'd share a few tips that have helped me at recent events.
I recently attended Corporate Visions Marketing & Sales Alignment Conference in Chicago I knew no one, not one single soul in attendance. Nada. Zip. Zilch. I learned quickly that mealtimes can be incredibly awkward for an introvert attending a conference with 400 of her closest non-friends.
Join a Small Group
Breakfast and lunch happened to be buffet-style in a cavernous ballroom with round table seating. Imagine my panic as I grabbed a plate of food and stared blankly into the sea of unknown bodies trying to determine the best place to pop a squat and eat. A few times, I thought about taking my plate out into the hallway or foregoing the group meal and grabbing something elsewhere. Before I had the chance, Cher's voice from Moonstruck hit me like a ton of bricks: "Snap out of it!"
What was I thinking? I was at a conference to network, not waste time wallowing in solitude. I put my big-girl pants on, marched over to the least packed table with empty chairs, and timidly asked, "Is anyone sitting here?"
The question worked like a charm as the response that followed was, "You are now." Followed by a "Hi, I'm so and so…" which sparked conversation and brought me out of my hard candy shell and back to reality.
Lesson learned: Don’t be afraid to ask to join people already gathered. Simply asking if you can join a group will almost never be met with a "no", and can often lead to some really good discussions. Be prepared to answer questions about yourself if you are the newbie joining a group that clearly already knows one another. I learned a lot about people this way and realized it was much better to be with other people than to dine alone.
Schedule Interviews and Meetings at the Event
If time permits, scheduling time to meet with other attendees and/or speakers at an event can help. That is a great way to not only meet new people on your terms but also capture information that can be used for an article or blog post for your own company. (Remember, content rules.) Most people are more than willing to talk about themselves and share their knowledge. Think of the relationships you can develop and build on, during and after the event.
Find a Face in the Crowd, Stay Aware, and Focused
One tip she gave in avoiding these was to find that one friendly face in the crowd. You know the person with the winning smile that seems approachable, and well…approach them and strike up a conversation. There is always at least one person like this (hopefully more) at any event. I will go a step further and say, "Find the person that may be in your shoes---alone and perhaps not knowing anyone else in attendance." Not everyone at an event is there with colleagues or friends. Find that person (or people) and buddy up!
Jill’s talk also provided other great tips on avoiding networking disasters, especially at a conference or event. Be self-aware. Don’t get so lost in your smartphone that you forget where you are and who is around you. The point of being at an event is to interact with others in person. Be mindful of how your body language is perceived; your head buried in your phone can be off-putting. Eye contact and a smile work wonders.
Events can also be quite draining. We all know this. Be aware of how your lack of energy can come across to others. You may be giving off the “I just want sleep” vibe unintentionally. Jill suggests having some sample questions handy to help fuel the adrenaline and keep you on point during conversations despite what you may be feeling.
Know What Works for You
As mentioned above, I found a way to overcome my fears and mingle at mealtimes. Cocktail receptions or parties are another great time to come out of your introverted cave and interact with others.
At our B2B forum, I found that I did some of my best networking in social settings over drinks and food. You really can't go wrong with this combo. (Who doesn't like to eat and drink?) And it is likely people will be in a much more relaxed frame of mind and willing to chat---and let loose---in this environment. At the Corporate Visions conference, they had an evening reception at the House of Blues. This introvert sang and danced her heart out and had an absolute blast doing so.
What other tips would you give to introverts heading out to a networking event?