DO YOU feel uncomfortable when someone invites you to a social gathering or when a business associate asks you to attend a business networking session?
If the idea of meeting new people or being in a room with a crowd makes you feel nervous or even stressed out, chances are you are an introvert.
If you are, you must have noticed that meeting and interacting with people drains your energy quite quickly. Even if you manage to drag yourself out of your home to attend a networking event, you look forward to heading back to your private space, heaving a sigh of relief that you survived the ordeal.
The truth is that if you are an introvert like me, you need some time to psych yourself up for business networking, or any other social event for that matter. It may even take some coaxing to persuade you to attend it.
The good news is that once you strike up a conversation with someone, you will feel more at ease. You just need a little more time to warm up.
Here are five practical ways to better prepare yourself for the next event:
It is easy to get distracted by the anxiety of attending a networking session. Before you decide not to accept the invitation, consider the objective of showing up.
Obviously, networking sessions are organised for attendees to mix and mingle. Some are there to seek career opportunities, while others seek opportunities to do business.
Introverts tend to go slightly beyond that and look for a mental connection. We hope to meet someone who expresses interest in our ideas. With this in mind, write your objective on a sheet of paper or key it into your mobile phone. It may go something like this: “This evening, I am going to find new partners who share my interest in the industry.”
Having this purpose not only reminds you of why you are there, but also helps you stay focused on the type of people you should meet. Even if you do not achieve your goal, you may connect with someone who can refer useful contacts to you.
Networking events can be extremely draining for an introvert, so be selective when choosing which ones to attend. I generally recommend that new networkers attend sessions with smaller groups of 20 or fewer attendees. This will be more manageable and less overwhelming.
If you focus on the objective, you may find that some groups’ agendas are not aligned to your goals. For example, an event for entrepreneurs may not be on top on your list if you are seeking career connections in your industry.
When you are selective, your mental and emotional preparation load is much reduced. This is one reason I prefer to organise monthly meetings rather than weekly ones — it reduces the mental pressure of having to face new people too often, yet it helps me make new connections at a regular interval.
Make friends ahead of time
With some online networking groups on Facebook and MeetUp, you have the opportunity to connect and get to know some “familiar faces” before you show up offline.
Get to know the organiser or host, and introduce yourself to him. He is a potential “gatekeeper” who can introduce you to suitable contacts, which will help you skip the small talk and make meaningful conversations with total strangers.
Take a buddy
If the organisers allow this, take a friend or a client to the event. Both of you can buddy-up until you are ready to network on your own.
If your networking buddy is an extrovert, this can work to your advantage as you have someone who can help you strike up conversations or even connect you with others.
Going with a fellow introvert is a good idea too, as you will both get a fair share of practice interacting with others. Practise your “elevator pitch” with each other before the event, if that helps.
Having a buddy ensures that you will not back out from attending since you have already made a commitment. I know this works well as I have been a networking buddy to many introverts.
Focus on others
Finally, the best motivator is to remind yourself that you have some value to add to others. It could be professional advice, an exchange of business ideas or even a referral contact to pass. This mindset works powerfully even for extroverts.
Focusing on helping others brings a sense of fulfilment. Your sincerity leaves a good impression on your contacts.
As an introvert, it is normal to feel anxious and slightly stressed before a networking meeting. However, the opportunities are almost endless if you step out of your comfort zone and meet new people.
It may take some practice initially, but as you adopt these tips for your future networking activities, you will become progressively confident. In good time, you will reap the benefits of making connections and developing your own network of relationships.
Article by Mervin Yeo, a networking evangelist. His upcoming book is titled I Can Connect — An Introvert’s Handbook To Stress-Free Networking. For more information, visit www.mervinyeo.com