I have a secret… when we started BASHH a decade ago, I was fairly extroverted. A little awkward, but still extroverted. Fast forward many years, and things have changed – now, it takes a tremendous amount of energy to be in a room full of people for a few hours, and I have to go home, turn the lights off, and have quiet time for the rest of the night (or sometimes next day).
Trust me, I understand the pains of networking as an introvert, and it’s tough. So I have some pointers for you!
1. Keep your goals low.
You’re not required to meet every person in the room (doesn’t that thought make your skin crawl!?). Before you even get into the car to go to the event, set a goal of meeting three new people. That’s it. You can do that.
2. Approach new people. No wait, don’t leave!
I have two methods for meeting my goal of meeting new people.
(1) I find someone sitting alone, fidgeting. They’re equally nervous to be there, so I can commiserate with them. I just go sit down and say, “Hi, I’m Lani.” They respond with their name, there’s some painful small talk, and then when it’s too awkward, I ask about food (“where’s your favorite place to be outdoors in town?”).
(2) I look for a group of three or four people that are smiling and walk over, butt in, and wait for a natural opening. It’s harder, but if you connect, learn their names and what they do, you’ve met your goal!
3. I try to skip past small talk.
The secret is that fellow introverts don’t hate talking to other non-robot humans, it’s the small talk that is just so awful. Yes, the weather is weather. Yeah, traffic is traffic.
So, I get past that with universal conversation that encourages others to talk and tell stories. Something like, “What’s the craziest injury you’ve ever had?” Everyone has an injury story.
4. Pace yourself.
You already know to pace yourself with drinking so the social lubricant doesn’t embarrass you, but I mean pace yourself with people. I have to excuse myself for a potty break or I have to step outside. Sometimes I just need a few minutes without interaction to keep my battery fully charged. Trust me on this one.
5. Let others help you network
Once I’ve met someone I get along with, if I’m feeling brave, I ask, “are there any interesting people here you think I should meet?” There are three possible outcomes. (1) They’ll say “nah,” and you’ll both move on to chit chat (or part ways). (2) “Ooh, so and so was over there!” and they’ll point you awkwardly in that direction. Later, go introduce yourself and say, “[That Person’s Name] said you were an interesting person to meet, I’m [your name]!” (3) They’ll say yes and immediately take you over and introduce you to someone interesting.
6. Worst case scenario…
Go find the volunteer(s) that helped you check in and just say hi. Even if you’re awkward (they may be, too), they’ll be a good comfort blanket as you gather yourself. Or hell, I’ll hold your hand through it (and we can talk about ghosts or cryptocurrencies or xbox or cats).
We can do this!!!