Though I sure felt like it.
I’d made myself attend yet another Chamber networking mixer, this one in a tiny office suite with a candidate at the courthouse. I wanted to increase my visibility in the local community, and Chamber mixers were practically a requirement.
But they were never easy. Not for me.
And this one was a doozy. Because I’m short, it’s easy for me to feel stifled in a packed space. I stumbled awkwardly through small talk, standing too close with some tall guy from the local plant, trying in vain to find something to say.
It was awful. And after a few minutes of mangled mingling, I gave up and left.
Stumbling back to my office, I fought back tears of frustration, embarrassed and angry with myself. ‘Couldn’t handle it, could you? Idiot.”
Ohhhh, the self talk was ugly that day. If only I’d known then what I know now.
With lots of coaching, and some useful tools, I can mix it up today and do just fine.
I don’t have to pretend I’m an extrovert, either.
All I have to do is follow these simple steps to make the most of the moment, and leave with my ego intact, and my head held high.
1. BEFORE YOU GO
Introverts hate small talk, so the key is to shift away from mindless minutia and in to mindful interactions. And the key to doing that is to set your intentions before you go.
So before you walk in, find a place to close your eyes, take three long, deep breaths, and get centered in your body. Then, get clear on the following three questions.
- Who do I want to meet today? (I want to meet two people who need my help.)
- What do I want to learn today? (I want to find one new resource here in town that I didn’t know about before…)
- What will tell me that this was a success? (When I feel light and excited about the new contacts. That’s how I’ll know this was a success.)
2. WHILE YOU’RE THERE
As an introvert, I naturally look for other introverts. Who’s hanging out on the edge of the room, looking like they need a courage boost themselves? When I focus on putting others at ease, I forget to be nervous myself.
Pretend that you’re the official Welcome Committee, and start with them.
PRO TIP: Decide in advance two or three key questions that you’ll use to start conversations. For example:
- What is your business? What do you do? (You’re curious anyway, right?)
- What do you love about that work? How did you get started doing that?
(Don’t you always wonder how people get into the work that they do?)
- So – I’m curious – what would you say is the greatest challenge that you’re facing right now in the business? What’s working (or not working) for you? (You may have an idea that could help.)
If you enjoy the conversation, and want to follow up, don’t offer them your card. Ask for theirs, instead. Keep your cards in your left pocket so they’re easy to reach if needed, and put theirs in your right.
“I’d love to talk with you again and learn more about this. Can I follow up with you in a week or two?” Now, you have permission to call, and the ball stays in your court.
3. AFTER YOU LEAVE
The minute you get back to your car or office, pull out your collection. Keep the cards of people you genuinely enjoyed talking to, and toss the rest.
Now, on the back of the remaining cards (there shouldn’t be many), make a note about each person you met.
What did he look like? What did she say that you found remarkable? What do you want to follow up with them about?
4. WHEN YOU GET HOME
First, pull out your calendar and schedule the date and time you’ll follow up with each one of those folks. Follow through within the week by email, phone call or hand written note.
Then, let out a big sigh of relief, and pat yourself on the back. You’ve just become a networking ninja.
Didn’t know you had it in you, did you?
Photo Credit: J.D. Hancock on Flickr