There are countless articles online detailing extroverts and introverts, so I’m sure I don’t have to spell out what an introvert is when I say I am one.
One thing I struggle with is the idea of networking.
Several months ago, I attended my first startup networking event to support a friend. I’m okay with casual large gatherings if I can slowly make my way around through smaller group or one-on-one interactions. But this was where everyone came determined to network for business purposes. As someone who’s also not business-savvy, the whole thing was nerve-wrecking.
Thankfully, I survived the event with only a hint of terror and social awkwardness (Others may say otherwise, but I didn’t dare ask). But now I realise that some kind of basic guide to the art of networking would have been nice.
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These are things I thought would have been helpful to my peculiar situation, so please, take them with a pinch of salt.
1. Come Early… But Not Too Early
When you come a little earlier than the stated time, the crowd is smaller.
So it won’t be as overwhelming as diving into a sea of strangers all eager to connect. You can take your time to assess the room, find your way around…and plan your exit strategy if you need to.
But if you come too early, then you might be the only one in the room and all attention will be on you instead. Which may or may not be good depending on your purposes.
2. Prepare Your Lines
Quite obviously, everyone will be asking, “What do you do?”
I hadn’t quite prepared myself for this (I know, how could I??), so I was winging it ambiguously, “Oh, you know, just here to support a friend…” By the end of the night, I had worked up a better-worded answer. So yes, imagine beforehand the questions that may come your way, and prepare a few lines so that you don’t look too much like a deer in the headlights.
I think preparing also forces you to carefully clarify your product or service, then others will better understand.
3. Make Full Use Of Your Name Cards
When I was bumbling my way through conversations, I found name cards to be lifesavers. They gave me something to hold and direct attention to, and were reference points when I was failing in words.
A simple name card is better than nothing at all.
4. Start With Just One Contact… But Don’t Be A Creep
The part I enjoyed most was when we were tasked to get to know only one person at a time. This was when I was most comfortable.
There was a point, though, when I unwittingly became a hanger-on, following one contact around the room aimlessly.
I was like Dug in the movie Up, “Thank you for being my friend, can I follow you home now?” Thankfully, I realised my mistake and slithered away. I don’t fully encourage the slithering away.
Perhaps it would be better to identify another hanger-on nearby and try to make another connection.
5. Deflect: Ask Lots Of Questions.
Then the other person has to do all the talking without realising that you’ve surrendered responsibility to him or her! Woohoo! (Sorry not sorry)
The upside to deflecting and listening is that you get to learn a lot about people, which always pays whether on business terms, social terms or both.
By the end of the night, you’d have a handful of name cards, a head swimming with personal and technical information, and a breath of relief for having made it through. Good job, you can pat yourself on your back.
Now it’s time to go home, de-compress, and assess the night.
Is there anything beneficial to take away from the night, or to act on moving forwards? At least now that you’ve made initial contact, you can be a little more confident in connecting with these people again. This time, though, you can happily resort to the default for introverts – emails and text.
So what? You’ve done enough socialising to last the week.