The January 2015 Strategy Session (Alberta Venture) is one of the most enjoyable pieces I’ve written in a while, thanks to:
- Dasa Chadwick, MA, CHRP, (introvert), owner and senior consultant with Leverage Point Learning
- Sandra Marin, BArts, CHRP, ECPC, ACC, (extrovert), Executive Coach, Consultant and Facilitator at Sandra Marin Inc.
- Moji Ajele, M. Eng (introvert-cum-extrovert) Owner, BNI Alberta South
who knew all the right things to say to introverts (and misanthropes) whose desire to network at that 2,000 person event is nonexistent. It’s ok, babes. We’re not doomed. We’re just as effective–maybe better–at networking than them annoying people-persons. Let me tell you how…
Unedited text, in all its typo-ridden glory, below:
Strategy session: “Networking for introverts, misanthropes, and other awesome people who will never, ever work a room, thank you very much.”
True story: I’ve just presented at a conference, and I’m now hiding in a (mercifully empty) women’s restroom. My eyes closed, I am so spent, I’d be sitting slumped on the cold and imperfectly clean tile floor, if the facility designers hadn’t been prescient, and provided chairs with spent speakers in mind. I’m not exactly curled into a fetal position… but as close to it as one can get to it in a semi-public (but did I mention, mercifully empty) place.
Except… footsteps. Creak. An intrusion.
“Are you all right?” I am, I am, but I don’t want to talk to you! To anyone! Go! Away! I reluctantly open my eyes. A flash of recognition.
“Oh! You were just presenting! You were great!” I know. But I am too exhausted to even smile and acknowledge the compliment. I do manage to meet the intruder’s eyes, though. And—another flash of recognition.
“Oh. I’m so sorry. You’re recharging. Please. Ignore me. I came in here to hide from the networking crowd for a while too.” I nod. Reclose my eyes and disappear into myself. Breathe. Ground. Glory in being alone.
Twenty minutes later, I will be back in the crowd. Exchanging compliments, comments, good-byes and business cards. But saying, “No, thank you, I’ve got to head back,” to the “Hey, we’re going to go grab a drink, would you like to join us?” invitations.
Dasa Chadwick, MA, CHRP, (introvert), owner and senior consultant with Leverage Point Learning, understands perfectly. “I don’t typically go to large events,” she says. “When I am at a conference or a place like that—I’m just not at my best there.”
But that doesn’t mean she’s not a great networker. She just does not network in… crowds.
“When people think of networking, they still think of going out, being in a large group of people, meeting a bunch of people at once, and handing out a bunch of cards,” she says. “I find that very uncomfortable.” What she excels at is the personal connection. One that starts with a personal introduction, and leads to a one-on-one meeting. A relationship built slowly, one intimate, meaningful exchange at a time.
“There’s still this dominant idea that networking for business development is about meeting people in order to sell them something,” she says. “And it’s not. It’s about… planting a seed. Making a connection—maybe connecting that person you’ve met with someone else you know, another opportunity you’re aware of.”
Sandra Marin, BArts, CHRP, ECPC, ACC, (extrovert), Executive Coach, Consultant and Facilitator at Sandra Marin Inc., agrees. “Networking is about building relationships and looking for ways to help others succeed,” she says. “And when you approach it like that, it takes the pressure off—because it’s not about pushing yourself or selling something—it’s about trying to do something nice for other people, and most people want to do that.”
That’s Moji Ajele’s mantra as well. The first lesson Ajele, M. Eng (introvert-cum-extrovert), Owner, BNI Alberta South, teaches her clients and colleagues is parable-like in its simplicity. “If you line up 100 people against a wall, and ask each of them, ‘What can I sell you?’ what are the odds that you’d get to the end of that line without getting… well, shot? But if you line up 200 people against a wall, and ask each of them, ‘How can I help you?’ what are the odds that before you hit the mid-point of that line, someone won’t turn to you and say, ‘So, how can I help you?’”
Introverts and the otherwise unexuberant rock at “how can I help you?” Misanthropes… not so much. So let’s talk about that. Suppose… suppose you just don’t like people that much?
Come on, I know I’m not the only one here with that particular issue. Much of the human race, especially when thrust at me in large quantities, does not thrill me, and spending time with it en masse, for long periods of time, exhausts me. So much so that I can’t ask “how can I help you?” … because I just want to run away and hide. (In a restroom, inter alia. Behind that large potted plant. Hey, is that supply closet door unlocked?)
“It begins with self-awareness,” Marin says. “You need to know… what are your strengths, and what happens when you move out of your comfort zone? Do you want to move out of your comfort zone? How can you make that happen? And if you don’t want to move out of your comfort zone—what are the consequences of that?” (That restroom is a calm and soothing place—when it’s empty—but it’s also very boring, and hanging out in it is not exactly moving my career forward.)
So. A few tips for all of us awesome people to whom working a room is a version of Dante’s eighth circle of hell. First, if you have to do that big event—set yourself up for success. “Go with a partner,” Chadwick suggests. Play off each other’s strengths and support each other.
Make and look for “open formations,” counsels Ajele. Know what that is? You and me, face-to-face, intensely engaged in each other (almost feels like a date)—not an open formation. Our body language is telling other people to go elsewhere, we’re busy with each other. You and me, side by side, talking to each other but aware of others in the room—that’s a conversation waiting to get larger. Join that one; form a dyad that looks like that.
Better yet, suggests Chadwick, look for other outliers. That other person, on the verge of the room, paying waaaay to much attention to his drink? Go say hi to him. “Those people would also prefer a one-on-one conversation. They’re more our kind,” she says. Marin agrees. “There’s no need to scrunch up the courage to insert yourself into that group of 10 that’s laughing hysterically,” she says. “Take your time. Feel the energy of the room. Look for that one person who’s just standing there.” She’s probably waiting, hoping to connect with someone just like you.
Screw quantity. Really, it’s not about meeting as many people as you can. If you meet one person you remember and think you want to see again—that’s a win. But also—screw quality. You’re not there to spend an hour engaged in an excruciatingly boring conversation about widgets just because the first person you smiled at sells widgets. Have your exit line ready. “It was nice to meet you. Best of luck with your widgets.” (You don’t need to add, “I’m going to go be alone in a dark room for a few minutes now.” But if you have to do that before your next connection—do it.)
And the real work—it happens after that first meeting. The follow up email. “Hey. I really enjoyed meeting you and talking about (please, god, not widgets). I came across this article today that I thought you’d might find interesting.” And—if it was a real connection… you know, the sort of person you actually want to get to know? “Would love to continue the conversation. How about a coffee, next Thursday, 2 p.m.?” (Note to Canadians: if you don’t include a date and time, it’s not an actual invitation.)
Most importantly—do you really need to be at that event, in that crowded? Really? What are you hoping to achieve—and is there another way of doing that? It’s not the only—nor the best—way of connecting with people. Especially if, in that situation, you are not at your best.
True story: virtually nobody who knows me would ever describe me as shy. Inarticulate. Socially awkward (ok, well, I’m not so sure about that last one). But that’s because we almost invariably meet in my comfort zone. Just you and me. In closed formation. I don’t want to stand side by side: I want to sit opposite you and focus just on you. Listen intently. Really understand. And when I do that—don’t you feel good? You do. Of course. It’s a great feeling, isn’t it—to be really listened to? To completely capture someone’s attention? And I feel completely comfortable, sincere, and authentic (unless you’re excruciatingly boring, but thank goodness you’re not, hey?)—and it’s all good. We’re building something real.
Put me in a room of a hundred people I don’t know, and tell me to mingle with them, and I kind of want to puke. Or, you know, hide. Hey—that’s a beautiful (and useful) potted plant…
“Hey, don’t I know you? Aren’t you that woman I met in the Shaw Conference Centre, in the…” Yeah. That was me. So… you hide behind potted plants at networking events often? “All the time. Seriously, I don’t know why I come to these things.” Me neither. Want to go to that empty corner over there and talk only to each other and ignore everyone else in the room? “I thought you’d never ask.”
OUR EXPERTS RECOMMEND
- Own the Room: Discover Your Signature Voice To Master Your Leadership Presence, by Amy Jen Su and Murual Maignan Wilkins (Isis Associates)
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
- Work the Pond! Use the Power of Positive Networking to Leap Forward in Work and Life by Darcy Rezac, Gayle Hallgren-Rezac and Judy Thomson (Shepa Learning Company)
- Me, Myself and Us – The Science of Personality and the Art of Well Being, by Brian Little