Networking for Introverts: 7 Tips for Your Next Event

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Have you ever been uncomfortable in a room full of people? Do you revel in the thought of just reading a book by yourself on a Friday night after a long week? Do you get more accomplished alone than in a group?

You might be an introvert.

Introversion often gets confused with shyness, but being outgoing and introverted are not mutually exclusive. In the case of introversion and extroversion, we are talking about the amount of stimulation that recharges you. Susan Cain, author of the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, explains:

“Introverts…may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.”

Introverts are needed in every industry and marketing is no exception. As marketers, we need to listen to our clients’ challenges to make informed and customized suggestions. Great ideas don’t always come from a group brainstorm, sometimes they occur during a solo walk to the café or while you’re enjoying a dinner by yourself

One area where introversion presents challenges is networking. I confess: talking shop to strangers is usually the last thing I want to do after a long workday.

If you’re an introvert and find yourself anxious leading up to a networking event, here are a few tips:

Bring a friend
This helps get your feet wet. If you are really interested in a topic or hearing a speaker but dread the awkward “mingle” time full of small talk, bring your extroverted friend to start conversations.

Pump yourself up
You are awesome. Staying at home or hiding in the corner is not only stunting your growth, it is doing the world a disservice. Your voice is needed because you are the only one with your perspective and experience.

Find another introvert
One-third to one-half of the world’s population is introverted. That fraction decreases in social settings, but I guarantee you will still find one. Introduce yourself. It can be as simple as “Hi, my name is…” or “Hi, what brings you here?” Focusing on making one meaningful contact is less intimidating than trying to meet X number of people.

Choose an event that incorporates activities
Check the event description or contact the organizers to see how it is structured. During the Diversity in Tech event I attended two weeks ago, the facilitators from Resilient Coders instructed us to get into small groups for a variety of activities. After some individual work and small group discussion, we all heard from each of the groups. This balance of alone time and outward discussion allowed introverts and extroverts to have their voices heard. Jiaorui Jiang, a fellow introvert I met at the event, felt the same way.

“The fact that it’s called a ‘networking event’ is intimidating actually,” Jiang said. “I would much rather go to events that are talk or activity focused so at least I know whoever is attending and I have similar interests and have things to talk about. But if I don’t feel like networking, I would really appreciate a safe space where I can get some alone time and not being judged.”

Shut your phone off
This one is difficult, but important. We have become so addicted to our mobile inboxes, newsfeeds and texts that walking around with faces glued to screens has become the status quo. It’s too easy to hide behind your screen and avoid interaction. Turning your phone off is a good reminder and challenge to talk to the actual sentient humans around you.

Practice your elevator pitch
If your barrier to attendance IS talking about your work, practice. Ask a coworker to hear your two or three sentence speech about what your company does and your role in it. Then ask a friend to hear the refined version. Are you missing anything? What questions might come up for someone who has never heard of your company or position?

Be interested
Seek out the speakers or attendees on Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. See what common interests you have and come up with questions to ask. Find people volunteering at the event and ask about their organization. You can even come up with a blog topic related to the event and use it as an excuse to talk to people. Introduce yourself by saying, “Hi I’m writing a blog on XYZ, can I get your opinion on …”  That’s what I did!

Also, read Susan Cain’s book or listen to her TED talk.

How to Survive a Tradeshow on a Broken Foot

The sun was shining. There was a crisp bite in the air that signaled winter was soon approaching. I rounded the corner on Heath Street (riding my beautiful mint green 2016 Genuine Buddy Scooter), on a mission to get to a couple of media meetings, when suddenly… I flipped.

After a brief five seconds on the ground, facing oncoming traffic, the adrenaline kicked in. As people started to crowd around me and help move my scooter away from the Green Line train tracks, I jumped up.

Do we need to call the ambulance?!” one guy shouted at me.

No! Please don’t. I’m fine.” I said.

Luckily, my scooter was unscathed. I hopped back on and very carefully (at 5 mph) got myself to the media meetings and gave the reporters walking tours of two large hotels.

After a weekend of limping around, two x-rays and an MRI, I learned that I fractured four bones on the top of my foot and was sentenced to six weeks in an air cast.

Six. Weeks.

Stephanie Ross sits on her scooter at RSNAWhile the boot put a damper in my wardrobe, it also put a damper in my schedule. I had a tradeshow in Chicago in two weeks, and not just any tradeshow – the largest radiology meeting in the world, drawing 58,000 attendees annually. I was worried I was going to miss it. It was an opportunity to meet face-to-face with my Sweden-based client and a first experience for me with tradeshow media interviews.

I had to go. And where there’s a will… there’s a way.

My colleagues, client and family were reluctant to see me go. Trade shows are on-your-feet, exhibit hall-giant, evening event experiences. Still, I made my way to Chicago and spent three days with my crutches and my client. Was it tiring? Yes. But was it worth it? Absolutely.

Here are 5 tips for how to survive a tradeshow with a broken foot:

 1.     Triple check with your airline about special assistance.

Call your airline ahead of time requesting wheelchair service on both legs of your trip. Make sure they will have a wheelchair waiting for you at the gate when you arrive. Then, call again to make sure everything is set – wheelchairs, pre-boarding and arrival. Sometimes, they forget to enter it or there is some sort of miscommunication that forces you to not get pre-boarding and hobble alongside the inpatient passengers (I’m looking at you, American Airlines). Pro tip: remember to carry cash to tip the employees who wheel you around – it’s not an easy task.

2.     Rent a scooter or wheelchair

Ahead of your tradeshow or conference, check the website for accessibility services. Most of the time, these large venues allow you to rent a scooter so you can zoom around. The rental was $50/day and it was extremely worth it. I was able to scoot around the tradeshow floor to meet with different reporters and exhibitors (and I was never late, since the scooter was wicked fast).

3.     Wear a comfortable shoe

That’s right. Shoe – singular. You depend so much on your healthy leg when you have a broken foot, it’s important you wear a shoe that’s comfortable. Learn from my mistake: that cute black, Italian leather heel that you thought would even out your lopsided stance doesn’t.

4.     Identify spots for you to sit during slow booth time

Similar to locating the nearest emergency exit when boarding a plane, you should locate the nearest chair, bench, table or clean floor for you to sit. Tending to a booth at a trade show is tiresome – you’re on your feet for hours at a time. If the healthiest feet need rest, you better believe your broken foot will need some too.

5.     Use the boot to network

As I stood at my client’s booth, my foot and I were met with sympathetic glances that soon turned into friendly introductions. I can’t tell you how many times I had to answer the question: “how did it happen?” However, one of the positive outcomes was how many booth visitors we engaged with because of the ugly, gray boot.

Can you wear the boot again next year?” my client asked.

“Sure,” I said, “Maybe.”

(Disclaimer: I’ve been boot-free for 46 days and counting. The boot, however, was unable to introduce me to or attract potential boyfriends. Bummer.)