By Jacqueline Whitmore
They say it’s who you know that counts, which is what makes networking events so appealing to most people. But what if you’re an introvert? What if you’re not good in social situations? Are you doomed from ever excelling in business because it’s hard for you to meet the right people?
With a little planning and the right approach, introverts can do just as well at networking events as their extroverted peers.
Here are some helpful hints:
Manage expectations: Don’t psych yourself out with unrealistic expectations that you have to meet as many people as possible. Remember, one quality conversation is more beneficial than 20 superficial ones.
Prepare: Plan ahead and prepare some icebreakers. Open-ended questions spur interesting conversations. Ask questions like, “How long have you been a member of the host organization?” or “What’s your favorite part of your job?”
Set a time limit: Deciding ahead of time how long you’ll stay at an event makes it less intimidating. What you’ll usually find is you only need a few minutes to adjust to the environment, and you end up staying much longer than you planned.
Ask for an introduction: If there’s a particular person you’d like to meet, try to find a common connection and request an introduction. You’ll get much further with an introduction from a common acquaintance than approaching someone out of the blue.
Practice empathetic listening: Introverts are usually fully-engaged and fantastic listeners. Because most people are better at talking than listening, you’ll stand out as someone who values others, and people will remember this about you.
Share your personal stories: If you ask consecutive questions without sharing information about yourself, it can start to feel like an interrogation. Participating in the conversation will help it to flow more naturally. Personalizing a story will also help people remember you.
Practice makes perfect: If you’re extremely nervous, challenge yourself with low- or no-risk situations. Drive to a networking event in the next town over where you likely won’t know anyone. Experiment with new conversation-starters or stories. That way, even if you make a complete fool of yourself, it won’t matter. And remember, it’s never as bad as you think. You are your own worst critic.
Take small steps: With increased practice, you’ll become more comfortable in social situations and with sharing your true personality. Take advantage of everyday opportunities to network. At the office, take small breaks to walk around and casually socialize with your colleagues. Once a week, invite a colleague to join you for lunch or coffee.
Jacqueline Whitmore is an internationally recognized etiquette expert, the founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach and the author of Poised for Success: Mastering The Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals. For more etiquette tips, visit her website: www.EtiquetteExpert.com or her blog: www.JacquelineWhitmore.com .