However you feel about networking (at least in the way it’s commonly understood), if you’re an introvert like me, the scenario that probably causes the most ill ease is likely the public event. I’ll define the public event as a relatively large gathering with people attending from places or communities other than your own. The folks you know may only represent a small number of the total. The challenge with public events for introverts is that, first, you’re obligated for whatever reason to attend this function that you know you’d rather not. Second, there is a high likelihood you’ll need to engage with those people you don’t know well if at all. Not a reality that gets any of the introverted folks I know excited. Sigh, just thinking about public events makes my skin itchy. But, and this is a big but, if you have your own business or aspire to, you know you need to be out there connecting with people. And that often means attending, and making the most of these gatherings. So, what to do? I’ll offer three actions that may help…
Identify an objective
If this sounds even a little bit like come up with a plan, that’s because it is. One of the most effective ways to make public events less stress inducing is to go into them with a clear idea about what you’d like to achieve through the experience. Keep your objective reasonable, and somewhat flexible. You don’t want to be one-dimensional. Note how I didn’t write to have a clear idea about what you’d like to get out of the experience. This is an important distinction. If you go in with the idea of getting something out of the experience you’re thinking extractively. I’m not suggesting this is all bad but please be aware that thinking this way can hurt you because it narrows your purpose. You end up using people to achieve your objective consciously or not, rather than merely connecting with people to uncover potential opportunity. Whatever you do though, don’t just show up. This is potentially worse than being extractive because you risk crossing over into wasting time. And if you’re going to just waste time, you can do that quite effectively from the comfort of your own home. You also spare others from potentially wasting their time.
Find a muse
How many times have you gone to a public event to notice that you, or the people you know are, you guessed it, only talking to you, or the people you know. I’ve seen it among my colleagues plenty of times, and actually, I think this behavior is the norm. I’ve been guilty of this too but I’m also consciously aware of the behavior and have committed myself to avoid participating in it. Now, when I go to public events, I consciously attempt to find and engage with at least a few people I don’t already know. Or at least, don’t know well. So, how do I, as a introverted person, do this? Well, I’ve adopted a muse. I’ve referred to him before as older-brother-number-two. This brother of mine is very real. He’s my naturally engaging, extroverted sibling who just happens to have made a successful career for himself in sales. Shocking, I know. But here’s how this brother of mine helps me to do what I consider extraordinary, out of character things. I simply imagine what my older brother would do in a given scenario, and then do my best to do that thing. Here’s the key bit, the accuracy of what I imagine is irrelevant. What is important is that the action I imagine he’d take, is seen by me as something very doable. Because, if my brother would likely do something then guess what, I can too. This whole imagining thing happens lightning quick by the way. I don’t over think it. Instead, I think to myself, “my brother would probably…,” and I do that. If you need a push to get out of your own way, find yourself someone you know well who is better at networking or engaging with others than you, and allow your imaginings of that person in action to push you forward.
Keep it real
In other words, stick to only talking about things you’re genuinely interested in or curious about. The reason for this is simple, demonstrating genuine interest or curiosity is easy because there’s nothing to fake. Being fake is hard enough (or should be). For an introvert, it’s exhausting. When I attend these sorts of public events, I’ve found that my most successful discussions are a result of identifying something that another person and I share in common. Something that we’re both really invested in. To me, these sorts of conversations aren’t small talk, they’re enthusiast’s talk. The kind of conversations people have when they’re really interested in the topic. In these types of conversations, I can seemingly go on for ever. And it doesn’t really matter how well I know the other person. What does matter is that we’ve made a connection, and you never know where that will end up. To simplify, keep your conversations real. You’ll be who you are, and likely more engaging too.
For the introvert, attending public events doesn’t need to be something we dread. But to make this so, we need to change how we show up, and how we think about why we’re there.
Later for now.