I have been an introvert all my life. In school or college, I was one of those popular girls who play negative roles in teen movies. And because of that, I never had to make an effort to get to know someone. Everyone knew me and I was happy with that.
In real life now, it is increasingly difficult for me to interact with new people or be the first one to break the ice. It was alright with me for a few years after I got married… I tried to avoid social gatherings and didn’t interact much with anyone but now in my professional life, I know how important it is to attend social events, workshops and conferences. And as much as I hate the thought of it, I always make it a point to attend as many events as I can to network with new people and to grow on both a professional and personal level.
I have attended almost a dozen such events in the past year and here are some pointers from all that I learnt from my experience and from the advice I received from my mentor.
DO NOT avoid large gatherings
As an introvert, you would want to avoid going to any events where meeting new people is concerned. You will be tempted for last minute cancellations also, but do not – and I repeat DO NOT give yourself a chance to back out. There have been many times I myself have avoided social gatherings or cancelled going right before the event only to regret my decision later. Therefore, the best thing to do is to keep a reminder of the event on your calendar and forget about it till the time your online calendar reminds you of it (which I normally keep for 30 minutes before the event). This way, you won’t give yourself a chance to back out and the best you can do is pray and hope for the event to cancel itself (which obviously doesn’t happen) hence you don’t have much choice left to hide somewhere and forget about it.
It is very difficult for me to talk to someone I don’t know. So as soon as I receive an invitation, I make a list of all the people who are going to be there and I end up stalking them on Facebook and LinkedIn. I do this so I can get insights into what they do, what their interests are, etc. This gives me great opening lines for when I meet them. You can normally find out the list of attendees from the event page on Facebook or their website. And even if you don’t, at least do some research on the speakers or panelists beforehand so you can get a chance to speak to them and stand out in the crowd, saying things you know might interest them.
Get out of BED
And by bed I mean your comfort zone. Even if you’re not a shy person, you will normally sit with the person / people you know. NO. Get up and sit with people you don’t know. You attend these events to network. For gossiping, you have kitty parties or boy / girl night-outs. So make the most of this chance you get to interact with some amazing new group of people. Sit with them, ask them what they do, exchange business cards… you really don’t know what curve your life is hitting right then.
Do not try to sell yourself
Many people see these events as a sale opportunity. ABSOLUTE NEGATIVE. Do not try to sell yourself, your products or your services directly to the people you meet. It leaves a very bad impression. Instead, always make sure that you convey what you do clearly and precisely and move on to more engaging talks / topics. Impress others by your knowledge of the industry. Do that and you will have made your mark. It’s a long process for your career but definitely worth it.
Business Cards – an asset
So I consider these business cards my most valuable asset. When I receive a business card from someone, I note down the event, the date and a bit of what we spoke about. This serves as a reminder for who that card belongs to. I tend to forget people easily and if this information is there on the card, I instantly replay the whole scenario in my head. I also make it a point to send a greeting email to everyone I meet the next day. This way the other person will also remember you for a long long time and if you ever need to use that contact, all you have to do is search for the initial email and send your request as a thread to that email. The receiver will instantly recognize you. WIN-WIN!
Online conferences and workshops
The best way to attend these online conferences is to attend only via an audio call. I have found this experience much more calming on my nerves than when I am engaged in a video call. This also leaves room in my mind for focusing on the agenda rather than constantly thinking about what other people think of me. Give it a try. Might be majorly helpful to you too.
All that said, you have to keep in mind the fact that you are only attending events relevant to your field or an event which may help your grow professionally or personally in some way. Your time has a cost and you don’t want to spend it without doing a cost-benefit analysis of it. It is great for people to know you but not at the cost of them selling your time off for a cheaper price than what it’s actually worth.
I read this line sometime ago and it so resonates with me:
Don’t fret about saying something clever or selling yourself. Everyone loves an introvert – all you have to do is listen.
All the very best to you shy guys out there!