An Introvert’s Secret to Thriving at Networking Events

By Theresa Horak

As an entrepreneur, no-one else is better equipped at conveying the mission of the company than the person with the vision – you!  

As an introvert, however, the thought of attending a networking event used to send shivers up my spine.  As the world of an introvert is built on internal reflection, an encounter with another human being is generally preceded by an internal dialogue that includes quite a bit of observation, assessment, debate and decision-making –  a lot of work to do before you have even said hello!  For me, the more people in the room, the more stimuli to process which can quickly turn into a daunting task best avoided by staying at home.

My challenge was to find a balance between feeling overwhelmed and being social, and more importantly, enjoying this interaction.  There is quite a bit of research on the benefits of social interaction.  One study in particular by William Fleeson found that acting extroverted may increase well-being, but I don’t want to act extroverted.  I want to act like myself, be true to my nature and be comfortable in this state!

I’ll admit my first obstacle was fear: fear of the unknown and of the multitude of possible outcomes, too many to compute with all the variables you may be faced with. Knowing that fear is not conducive to overcoming the angst I felt when entering a room of networkers, I started searching for positive emotions that would counterbalance this fear.   What I found worked best for me was to focus on two of my strengths: Compassion and Curiosity!

Compassion – It might be difficult for some to foster compassion for complete strangers, but the best technique to cultivate this compassion is through meditation. UC Berkeley has a particularly great example of what is called LKM (Loving Kindness Meditation): https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/loving_kindness_meditation 

If meditation is not your forte, don’t worry.  One “shortcut key” is to  simply identify similarities, the easiest one being that as a start, everyone there has taken the time out of their day to attend the same networking event.  As you formulate this list of the similarities, the next step is…

Curiosity – I tap into my childhood adventurer spirit and fill my thoughts with questions like: Who is this person? Why did they choose this event? What are they passionate about? It is much easier to walk up to a person and start a dialogue with these questions in your head than a rehearsed sales pitch or a question like, “How quickly can I get out of this place?”  

Once you have become curious about the people in the room, it is easier to approach someone.  Why?  Because now you are in a position of strength and on a discovery mission.  As you walk up to that person, hold on to that curious spirit because that way you remain true to your nature.  You will come across as authentic and if you reach out to a fellow introvert, they would be grateful that someone interesting came up to speak with them.

Good luck on your journey! I welcome your comments and insights or other techniques that you have applied to flourish in networking situations.   

 

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