networking for introverts

Comfortable networking for Introverts (2) - How was the lion's den? And a Cinderella moment...

In last week's article (find it here if you missed it), MidlifeUnstuck ran an experiment where one confirmed introvert (me) was made to do everything that the psychology research suggested she should to see if networking could be made comfortable for her.  Then that introvert was thrown into a lion’s den filled with national journalists, PR gurus and 50 or so other business owners.    Why? 

Because I am old enough to know that even if you’ve been lucky enough to design your career to match your superpowers perfectly, there will always be elements that are key to your success which lie firmly outside of your comfort zone.

For example, I know photographers who detest doing accounts but like getting paid.   I know fabulous finance people who hate doing stand-up presentations but do it weekly.  I know brilliant but modest artists who can’t bear showing off their designs.  And, I know of at least one career transformation coach who adores what she does but comes out in spots when any type of “networking event” is mentioned.  

Typically introverts prioritise ANYTHING other than networking – it's our nemesis.   After some intensive research on introverts, I discovered that there are a few key activities necessary for comfortable networking.  These include: detailed preparation on the attendees; choosing a structured event design; alone time before and during the event and; setting expectations around fewer but deeper conversations than extroverts might expect.  

My event (SOULFUL PR LIVE) involved meeting face-to-face with 8 national journalists, with opportunities to ask questions and even pitch the odd idea to them.  It also involved a roomful of business owners, some of whom were confirmed introverts and others who appeared to be in their extroverted comfort zone.  

So, how was the lion’s den?  Did the research work? How comfortable was this introvert?

The detailed preparation meant that I had very low anxiety levels the night before and unexpectedly slept well.   I strolled to my dawn train with time to spare avoiding the coffee shop in case I threw coffee over myself - sadly not as rare an occurrence as you might imagine.  I’d planned to arrive at the smaller, pre-event breakfast meeting with plenty of time to freshen up before others arrived.  A vision of Zen.  Crucially, I’d have a chance to get to know people individually as they arrived as opposed to walking into a formed group.  I had lived and breathed the advice from the research and was raring to go.

On the day

In actuality, my google maps had such a melt-down that I couldn’t work out where I was - perhaps something to do with an accidental paddle in my handbag with a bottle of Evian the previous day?  

I had allocated one hour to do a 25 minute stroll from the tube station so hadn’t bothered to pick up any cash for emergency taxis etc.  An hour and a half later, I arrived late having been guided by 5 separate, kind individuals pointing me towards Shoreditch.  Who says London's not a friendly place? I’d grown a big frizzy hair bomb, developed a fashionable “dewy sheen” on my face and was wearing converse trainers rather than my beautiful, coral, confidence-giving shoes (see photo).  All this without even a hint of caffeine and zero breakfast.   Comfort levels – close to zero.

coral shoes

The 8/9 breakfasting ladies in a trendy café near the venue were presented with this big-haired, perspiring vision of panic.  They responded with smiles and sympathy.   After a few solitary moments in a darkened, cool loo and a gentle yet persuasive chat with myself in the mirror, I felt ready to start again.   This time it was a whole different ballgame. 

I had lots of fascinating one-to-one human interactions - the essence of totally comfortable networking for introverts.  These were not banal interactions.  They included:

  • fawning over wonderful hand-made pendants;

  • discussions about pigs who had passed away but had been central to marketing and life;

  • comparing the parenting styles of in-laws and;

  • viewing stunning photos of ethically-sourced children’s clothes.

Essentially, I felt like I was accessing behind-the-scenes stories that allowed this small group to connect in a way that would have been impossible on-line. On to the main event. 

Walking into a room full of strangers, I forced myself to appreciate that I was also a stranger and made an effort to say “hello” and smile – just as my 6 year old had reminded me the previous night.  I grabbed another shot of caffeine and choose a table with only one person on it thinking she might be receptive to a new friend.  She was and we hit it off.  She turned out to be one of the speakers and was open, funny and wise.  More behind-the-scenes story telling.  Comfort levels – sky high.    

The pre-lunch personal meetings with the journalists was without a doubt a little “itchy” for the outed introvert in the room.  Whilst I made eye contact and attempted to make them feel comfortable, this session was much less structured and therefore trickier to navigate.  By the time I understood the lay of the land, I’d probably only asked one question and certainly didn’t feel comfortable enough to openly pitch an idea.  

However, I watched in awe as more experienced business-owners batted pitches back and forth with these journalists with such ease.  I’m not sure I made the most of that particular session but– at least I hadn’t imploded in front of them.   Comfort levels – middle of the road.

Lunchtime brought another difficulty…who to talk to over lunch?   Aaagh.  Thankfully I met one of my top-5-people-I-must-meet-today list (Thank you to the research).   She had previously also publicly outed herself as an introvert and secretly admitted to me that she had just allowed herself 6 minutes solitude in the loo.  I was crippled with envy.  Note to self...build that into my next event.

Thankfully, the afternoon involved watching a couple presentations which gave me time to just listen without pressure.  The event came to a close.  I exited like Cinderella at the end of her ball.  I speed-walked to the loo, swapped my coral shoes for my converse trainers, then almost sprinted towards the exit leaving my lanyard and name badge strewn somewhere behind me.   I breathed a sigh of relief but also joy.  I had spent a whole day in conditions that extreme introverts might consider a nightmare.  But, it had been exceedingly more comfortable than any other networking event I had ever attended. 

I’d learned so much, made real human connections (which is the highest quality of networking… isn’t it?), shared some inspiring stories, discovered belly laughs amongst deep and meaningful conversations and built early foundations for new friendships. 

Do I want to do this every day of the week?  Hell no! Could I build this into a regular part of by business growth plan? Undoubtedly.

My conclusions are that comfortable networking requires more intensive planning for introverts than extraverts and that an event with the right degree of structure to satisfy the one-to-one interaction-loving introverts whilst still considering the social butterflying extroverts is the perfect mix. Thankfully at Soulful PR Live 2017, this was the case.    

Would I do anything different next time?  I might wear comfy shoes the whole day and stash some cash in my pocket…just in case Cinderella needed an escape carriage.

If you’d like to hear more about designing your career around your personality profile and unique strengths, please email me on lucia@midlifeunstuck.com to arrange a time to speak.   If you are not quite ready or feel up to re-designing your own career by yourself, please sign up to my newsletter here for weekly articles for hints, tips, transformation stories to inspire you.

Comfortable networking for introverts (1) - How not to waste an amazing network opportunity

introvert alone

I recently pushed myself WAY outside my comfort zone and bought a ticket to a networking event.   I was sitting in a café in central Guildford where I often write my articles when something weird happened.   After pressing the BUY NOW button, my stomach folded in on itself and I began to experience symptoms of an unusual illness known as “extreme post-purchase remorse”.   Suddenly I felt like a blushing, sweaty teenager who had been ordered to perform a Britney Spears song alone, on a stage, in front of the whole school...NAKED!   

How could one little networking event reduce me to a teenage wreck when I have been on this earth for four and a half decades?

You see I really, really want to be at this event but...I am an introvert

If I can actually muster the courage to attend, I will have the opportunity spend a whole day with 8 national journalists and editors from the likes of The Guardian, Huffington Post, Marie Claire, BBC Radio 4s Women’s Hour and Good Morning Britain to name but a few.  Along with 50+ other business owners, I’ll be learning how to position and pitch my business to the national media (www.soulfulprlive.com).  It could be brilliant for my business.  But I still feel sick to the stomach at the thought of it.       

soulful pr live banner

Networking events have always felt painful to me but I know some people just love them.  About 10 years ago, in my corporate job, a personality profiling tool branded me (and just one other manager at the time) as...God forbid…an introvert among a sea of extroverts!   It was at that point that I began to hide my discomfort at networking events and buckled down to some serious "working the room" doing my best impression of an extrovert.    At the end of those events, I felt so drained that I could barely speak.  It was just part of the job – a necessary evil.

Through trial and error, I slowly learned ways to make such networking events manageable. But I wish I’d known what I know now.  That I could have made them more comfortable...without the assistance of multiple glasses of wine to make me more…what’s the word…extroverted. 

Two years ago, I began some research to understand introversion.  Initially, my aim was to overcome my introversion but very quickly I uncovered a new respect for my occasionally debilitating/occasionally liberating personality trait.   

I discovered that introversion is like (bear with me here) hair curliness.  You might have only one little section of your hair that’s curly (slight introversion).  Or you might have a head of tight curls everywhere (extreme introversion).  But you are more likely to have something in between.  Neither end of the spectrum is better or worse – they’re just different and require different hair products and atmospheres to reach their full potential.   If curly hair is in the wrong environment, it’ll frizz.  If introverts don't have conditions that allow them to thrive, they will not thrive.  But even in the stressful conditions of a networking event, introverts can thrive if they know how.

differences between Extroverts and Introverts: An overview

introvert extrovert general styles

If I really wanted to attend this event, I had to make sure that my introversion did not control me.  So, I very specifically researched ways for introverts to stay real to their personality make-up yet feel comfortable at networking events.   

The advice was surprisingly simple.  I've condensed some of the most widely accepted advice for successful and comfortable networking for introverts into the list below.  I've also compared my event preparation was shaping up.

Comfortable networking hints for introverts: Before the event

·        Pre-register or buy a ticket – that way you are less likely to find something more important to do on that day. Tick.

·        Know the event format. Sadly many networking events are unstructured and force you mill around for ages before having to interrupt group conversations.  Zero comfort here for introverts.  Choose a structured event with table moves, pre-agreed discussion topics or ice-breaker activities. Tick.

·        Figure out the dress code, if there is one.  If not, choose your favourite confidence-boosting outfit.  “Nothing new on race day” is a mantra I see written often in my husband’s running magazine.  If it's new, scratchy, hangs weirdly when you sit down or doesn’t fit beautifully - don’t wear it.  Favourite blue top ready to rock. Tick.

·        Be alone before the event. Try not to spend time before the event in draining social activities – you need to power-up for the event.  I’ll be sitting alone with my notes on the dawn train to Waterloo. Tick.

·        Research the attendees.  Thankfully here the organiser and PR guru Janet Murray (@Jan_Murray) has done a fabulous job of setting-up facebook groups, a pre-event zoom meeting and requesting specific attendee preparation before the event.  During these on-line conversations, shared articles and questions I have gotten to know at least 5 attendees whom I will be seeking out on the day.  Some share my discomfort and even sent warm messages when I announced that my introversion was troubling me.  Others are in a similar industry and I'd love to hear their opinions on almost everything.   

·        Set realistic and measurable goals.  I’ve nearly finished my research on the attending members of the press. This is just a little aide-memoir with a couple of their article titles in case I go blank in the moment (common introverted behaviour when faced with constant social interaction).  I have two small goals for the day.  The first is to ask one question of every journalist at some point during the day.  The second is to say hello to the 5 people mentioned above.  That’s all.   I want to be walking through Shoreditch at the end of the event with a smile on my face.    

·        Prepare your personal story.   Sadly, I am not going to be able to ask questions and listen all day which is in my comfort zone.  Someone is bound to ask about me and my story.  I thought I had my story done and dusted until I started to write it down.  I realised it makes great sense to me but not to someone who has never met me before.  I’ve refined my personal and business "elevator pitch" and feel more comfortable.  Still, I’m not looking forward to talking about myself but it is a means to an end.

How comfortable networking styles differ for introverts and extroverts

It’s one thing being prepared for a networking event and another feeling comfortable during the event.  The research suggests that there are opposing but equally successful methods of networking at an event for extroverts and introverts. Check them out below:

 

networking general introverts

It's worth noting again that these are just differences in equally successful networking styles -  not good/bad labels. 

Comfortable Networking Hints for Introverts: On the day         

  • Arrive early (ish). No need to arrive so early that the organisers are still setting out the name tags but arrive a few minutes early to freshen up rather than arriving incognito when the event is in full-flow.

  • Schedule to meet one or more of the group before so that you can arrive together. Someone suggested meeting for breakfast and I jumped at the chance, thinking that this might ease my nerves and probably make the whole day more comfortable.

  • Seek out your top 5. Remember your small list of people that you really wanted to connect with…seek them out.

  • Ask open questions.

  • Real compliments or comments. Offer a truthful compliment on another attendee's outfit/bag/pen etc. Who doesn't love an authentic compliment? Alternatively comment on one of the speakers' points and ask what the person beside you thinks. Who doesn't love to have their opinion requested?

  • Good posture. Make eye-contact and stand tall giving the impression of confidence, even though you are not feeling it.

  • Names. Make an effort to learn a couple of names. It's such a big compliment to have your name remembered and will make you memorable.

  • Jot down some notes from conversations with anyone you have spoken to (back of business cards are really good for this).

  • Follow up after the event with a message containing a fragment of your conversation. This is a giant differentiator rather than the generic “great to meet you email”.

  • Be real. In order to make any concrete connections, you have to connect as humans. This is difficult if you are disguising yourself as something you are not…even if that's an extrovert.

  • This last one wasn’t in any of the research but since I say it regularly to my daughters when teaching them how to make friends I think it is worthy of a place on the list. It is simply – Smile and say “Hello”. It’s the world’s greatest conversation-starter.

The event starts in less than 48 hours.  I'm still not looking forward to it (Sorry @janet_murray).  I definitely won't work the room like a social butterfly.  I won't pretend to be more extroverted than I am.   I'll just be me.  I certainly feel more comfortable than I ever have after doing the research and preparing.   That said, realistically I'm also expecting the stomach flipping to return on the day!     

If you'd like to read more - have a look at the following books:

  • Networking for people who hate networking – Devora Zack

  • Quiet – the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking – Susan Cain

  • Never eat alone – Keith Ferazzi