An Introvert Does Marketing: Part 3
Believe it or not, networking is a kind of marketing activity, and it is one that I have avoided in the past. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world, it just got me feeling a bit nervous. Nowadays, I don’t mind it that much, especially if there’s a welcome drink or some kind of food involved. I’m not saying that the only way for an introvert to do networking is to first have an alcoholic drink because that can go wrong in a number of ways.
There was a time in the past where I had attended a work-sponsored event where we could mingle with co-workers and executives alike and where wine was available. Given the fact that I do sometimes use my hands to gesture as I talk, I began to do so with a glass of red wine in my hand as I was talking to a VP-level employee. As you might have guessed, some of the wine splashed onto my own outfit (if any splashed onto the VP, I have no recollection of it). Due to the nature of the stain – as in, it didn’t come out – I never wore that particular top again. Thankfully, even though I had enjoyed half of that glass of wine that made me so gregarious as to make hand gestures, I still had my wits about me.
That is the important part of networking whether you’re an introvert or extravert, or somewhere in between. It’s important to keep your wits about you so that you can think of intelligent things to say as you introduce yourself to people, or they introduce themselves to you. And for us introverts, we do take our time to go over in our heads all of the different options of what to say including possible responses before we go and talk to someone. There are so many possibilities, this could take a while.
A strategy that use is to get to a networking event early so that I can talk to people who arrive individually before the groups start to form. The reason is because once the groups (of people who already know each other) form it becomes that much more difficult for an “outsider” to break in.
The issue is that introverts like me are typically not the ones to break into a group: “Ta-DA! I’m here! My name is Kathryn! I’m awesome and I’m HEEERRRE! How is everybody?” I take a quieter approach: “Nice to meet you. I’m Kathryn. Nice to get here early to find a hanger on the coat rack and have first crack at the snacks isn’t it?” The other type of introvert who is mainly there for the professional development points, or the speaker gets there just in time for the speaker introduction so as to not have to do any networking at all. This is also a solid plan.
One misconception about introverts is that we’re not social. We are we’re just a bit…selective about it. Crowds are not our thing, so while we may not close-down a networking event because we just can’t tear ourselves away from all of the people there, we do see it as a part of working life. Sometimes it’s seen as a necessary evil: “Okay, fine I’ll go, but I won’t enjoy myself” and others don’t mind it so much, as long as we stick to our strategies.
When I first started networking, the goal was singular: meet someone who would be willing to give me a job. Along the way, I made some great contacts, although none of them gave me a job. It was all good practise for me to talk to people I didn’t know (gasp – strangers!) in case it would be useful to know them or for them to know me. And if you go to enough of these things, people start to remember your face. What I liked was when I started to get to know people who went to the same events (put on by the chapters of professional associations I belong to), I got more comfortable. That made these people not strangers anymore. I knew their names! That makes it so much easier because these people would introduce me to their people, so I wouldn’t have to go with the much-dreaded “cold introduction”. All I need is an in, and I get charm people with my well-filtered thoughts.
To the outside observer, the way in which an introvert does networking might seem slow. I’m taking about in-person networking. Online, it’s even slower because there’s nobody making that kind of friendly eye-contact that can’t be avoided, basically making us go and talk to them (or that encourages them to come over and talk to us).
In person, someone might ask “What are you doing just standing by the wall? Go over there and talk to them!” or “What are you waiting for?” I can tell you that there are a number of very good reasons to wait one of which could very well be: “I’m still waiting for conclusive evidence that they’re not a murderer!” I mean, an introvert can’t be too careful these days!
Other reasons could be:
- There’s one more networking-script revision to do before I can talk to any strangers
- Oh, there’s somebody I know! Wait, nevermind…
- What if they spit when they talk? I should probably be wearing a face-shield
- What if they don’t want to talk to anybody either?
- They just put a huge date square into their mouth, I should let them finish
- Oh, someone else just walked up to them
- I don’t want to seem like a stalker
- I’ve got to go to the bathroom first, you know, while there’s not line
- What if they think I only want one thing from them; a job
- What if they only have negative stories to tell?
- I still need a conversation exit strategy! (everybody needs one of these)
Okay, some of the items on this list might sound like excuses. If you’ve read any of my articles before, you’ll understand that I don’t like strangers. For most introverts, it does take time to warm up to new people. A well-organized networking event with a long buffet table provides the opportunity for accidental meetings over celery sticks and dessert squares: “Oh that one looks good. Have you tried it? Hi, I’m Kathryn”. It seems so natural, and almost everyone is willing to partake of the “free” buffet of snacks. It doesn’t matter if you ate before you came. The snack buffet at a networking event is calorie free and healthy no matter what a person eats (I have no scientific evidence to back up this claim. I’m just trying to make introverts feel comfortable at the table).
Another tactic or strategy that can work, but is also kind of hit-and-miss is when you get to the networking event early, you just go and sit down at an empty table after talking to the only person you know there (the events coordinator, because you see them at every event). The reason this is hit-and-miss is because other early-arrivals may be doing the same thing as you. They may be following the human tendency to spread out into the available space, so they go and sit at another table.
And then an extravert comes along (or someone you already know), and sits down at your table and starts talking.
This is when a strategy like this starts to work. You’re like a cat, waiting for an opportunity (not that you’re hunting networking contacts…not entirely), and when it comes along you make the best of it: “Hi, how are you? Yes, please join me. Oh no, I’m not lonely sitting here by myself. I’m enjoying the ambience. I like coming here. The food is usually pretty good.”
I’ve had a lot of practise with these types of events, although not so much lately. Eventually, one contact I made eventually did hire me for a contract and they’re just an overall good person. It was about being open to the opportunity.
Now that I’ve become more comfortable with networking and know more people, I’m passing along my wisdom and pretend-extravert strategies to others. I do my best to make others feel welcome whether they’re new to the chapter, new to the profession, or just new to me. I’d like to thank my pretty, likeable, and friendly face. Provided my face isn’t reacting to my inner dialogue, that is, because that would mean it might not look so friendly. As long as I remember to smooth it out, it’s fine.
I think there’s a lot to be said for a person like me who will listen thoughtfully as another person talks about their career and life events. There’s also a lot to be said for knowing when to jump in with one’s own contribution. And just like other things in life, it works well to know one’s limits. If I’ve had enough of talking to people, it’s time to go and have my alone time, counting myself successful at today’s event because I went and talked to people, some of whom may have started out as strangers. I may not know all of what my face has been expressing to people, but if the food was good and I’m willing to do this again (plus maybe follow up with some nice people), then I’d call that a win.