If you know me primarily as on online mistress of wit and wisdom, it may surprise you to learn that in real life, I’m painfully shy.
I’ve been meaning to ring the lovely beauty therapist who lives around the corner to book a waxing appointment for two months now, but the thought of calling up a stranger makes me so nervous I keep putting off. It was only when my husband noted without his usual humor that my legs look like punga logs and the cat started to look at me as if I were one of her kind that I had to relent and do it. And it was fine, but still, sometimes I wish I were a bit braver.
If this story sounds all too familiar, you probably hear the word “networking” and feel the urge to cower in the corner. For us introverts, walking into a room filled with people we don’t know and having to strike up conversation with them is the most terrifying thing on the planet. You might as well tell us Freddy Krueger’s the guest speaker, for all we want to go.
But eventually, dear introverts, we have to come out of our shell. Meeting other creative folk face-to-face offers untold rewards – greater than tweeting back and forth or answering quizzes about each other on Facebook. That human connection with other people in your industry will renew your spirit and push your business further ahead than you could imagine.
Here are my tips for Networking for Introverts.
Networking is Not High School
I think most of us introverts suffered from horrendous bullying / ostracisim / embarrassment during our formative years, and this further cements our personalities as the corner-sitters. We actomatically assume a room full of people will contain the same ratio of mean people as our old classroom.
Recently, I did something I’ve been putting off for five years because of my fear of meeting people, and I joined the NZ Authors Association and attended one of their local meetings. I was terrified, but the people were so kind and friendly and utterly nuts, I didn’t want to leave. Seriously, no one makes you laugh like other writers (especially writers who look upon famous sportspeaple writing books with mocking derision).
If you attend a group of people who share the same passions as you, chances are high you’re going to like them and they’re going to like you.
Don’t worry about talking: just listen
In scary networking situations, the introvert’s best weapon is our ability to make the less-introverted people feel . If you can get someone talking about their project, about their passion, and you can see that fire in their eyes, and you let them talk, stopping every now and then to ask an intelligent question – these are the people who go home and say to their spouse, “I made a new friend tonight.”
Your strength isn’t talking, it’s listening. And everyone wants someone to listen to them. Don’t try and be heard in the big groups – find yourself someone in the corner and allow them to tell you their life story.
Learn to ask questions
This goes with listening – learn to ask questions that get people talking (so you don’t have to!) Avoid questions that require a simple “yes-no” answer. When talking to authors I love to ask “What do you write?” “What are you working on right now?” and “What was your inspiration for this peice?”
Give yourself mini-challenges
Whenever I’m faced with an impossible task, I’ll break the task down into small, manageable chunks. Then I’ll present each chunk to myself as a mini-challenge.
So, for my Authors Association meeting, my first challenge was to sign up for membership – that was easy – I filled in a form online. Then I had to decide to go to a monthly meeting – I chose the date of the next one, noted an author I really like would be speaking, wrote it in my diary, and told my husband I was going. Sometimes telling someone you’re going gives you a great confidence boost.
Then, my next challenge was to get on the right bus. When you’re blind like me, this is a REAL challenge. After that, I had to find the right building. I was so busy dealing with each of these challenges, I didn’t have time to feel nervous until I entered the room.
Once there, I challenged myself to strike up conversations with the people around me, to turn around and insert myself into a conversation when I heard writers talking about subjects that interested me. I challenged myself to thank the organizers for having me, and to go up to the speaking author afterward and talk to her.
Make it! And sit up straight! Standing tall and proud help you look and feel confident!
Learn the names and faces of the speaking panel, or read up in advance about the subjects you’ll be discussing. A bit of knowledge behind you will help you feel confident voicing your opinions.
Remember they’re just people
However nervous I am when I meet people in a room, I’m a hundred million times more nervous and tongue-tied when I meet an artist / writer / musician whose work I admire. When meeting famous people in your circle, it’s important to remember that they dedicate a certain amount of time to interacting with fans and, as long as you’re not trying to hug them over dinner, you’re not an annoyance to them. Again, practice asking questions – what’s their next project? What was their inspiration? I like to ask musicians if they’re enjoying New Zealand.
Are you an introvert? How do you handle meeting people in person? What are you tips for dealing with tongue-tied nerves?
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