If last week was any indication, we are gearing up for the holidays. Which is always a mixed blessing – having some “down time” to spend with family and friends (awesome), but also having to be around new faces and “network” at all of these events, makes me shudder. Oh the joys of being an introvert. Susan Cain recently published a book titled Quiet on the value introverts add to the workplace to shed some light on innate differences between introverts and extroverts – I think this TED talk captures it nicely, if you want a quicker review. I know that there are several extroverts reading this, so the tips may not be directly applicable – but now you’ll know how to support the introverts you meet at your next conference or dinner.
That being said, holidays are ripe for intermingling with old and new friends – yes my friends, this is networking! Most of us think that networking only occurs at big conferences or “mixing” events, but networking happens everywhere. It is about creating and building relationships with other people. It’s not about getting something in return from meeting someone or pitching the heck out of yourself to further your career. It’s about expanding “your people” to learn and grow. And isn’t that what happens every time you attend a holiday event? You are exposed to new people and get to create connections and expand your network. (And thanks to a LYWC reader for giving me inspiration for this post!)
Networking Over Turkey for Introverts
One of the most helpful tricks that I learned about “networking” was that you should obliterate the word networking from your vocabulary. To me, it was an intimidating word – having to be “on,” always having something fabulous to say, proving my worth with each sentence, and representing my boss/company/position at each turn. Ugh, the pressure. But how do you break through all of that nonsense to make long-lasting connections? Start at your holiday dinner.
- Create your own purpose for every “event.” When you go to your next holiday or big conference, create a small goal or outcome that you want to achieve from the meet-up. For my turkey dinner this year, I have set a goal to talk to a specific person who is attending. We haven’t spoken much in the past and I look forward to getting to know them better. We are both introverts, so it will take extra effort, but that is my goal for the event. When I attend work-related dinners or conferences, I usually set a goal around a knowledge point or skill I want to learn more about. For instance, I am interested in learning more about compliance for video interviewing – so I need to seek out other people at the event who know about this topic, to chat with them. Sounds small, but it helps keep me focused on learning instead of the dreaded networking.
- Sit next to someone, anyone, really. The natural instinct for an introvert is to sit in the back, or in the aisle by yourself. Find the space where no one is likely to sit down, and go there. So fight against your instincts and find a person who looks open to chatting. Luckily for you at holiday meals, there will usually be someone on each side of you – perfect! You don’t have to do the choosing, but try to make the first effort by simply saying, “hello,” when you take your seat. You will be amazed at what a conversation started that one little word is.
- Treat your conversations like you’re talking to your friends. When I’m around my friends, I have no issue speaking up, starting conversations or asking questions. I may or may not be the most chatty in the bunch (depending upon who is around me), but I focus on one-on-one interactions and conversations. And when you’re “networking” that is the easiest way to get out of your shell. When your approach is friendly, you don’t stall or search for conversation starters. You do not have to talk about work or a product or so on. Just talk about what you would with your friend – the weather, something you watched on TV last night, a book you’re reading, a news topic. However you would lead “small talk” on the phone with a friend, is a perfect way to lead with a new acquaintance.
Best Networking Nugget of Advice
From the movie, We Bought A Zoo:
“Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Twenty seconds of embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”