When meeting somebody new at work, you follow a well-established ritual: a handshake, an assessment of relative status, a few words of chit-chat and then you sit down and get to the business at hand. Introverts and extraverts alike find this ritual easy.
In social settings and even during work-related events (like conferences), extraverts have a definite advantage. Because they're naturally "people-people," extraverts easily start and join conversations and generally find it easy to enjoy themselves.
Introverts, however, often struggle at social gatherings. To introverts, it seems weird to walk up to somebody and start talking or to barge into a conversation in progress. Because there's no ritual, introverts linger in the corners, nursing their drinks.
I know exactly how that feels because that's what usually happens to me when I'm in large groups of people. As a result, I tend to avoid conferences unless I'm a speaker, in which case people come up and talk to me without any effort on my part.
My mother told me that when I'm at a party "find somebody who's standing alone and introduce yourself." The result is predictable: two introverts, both grimacing and uncomfortable, standing in the corner nursing their respective drinks. Thanks, Mom!
Fortunately, at the Reader's Legacy conference last weekend, Nick Boothman, author of the huge bestseller "How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less," explained exactly how to make a great first impression at a social gathering. Here's my take on his recipe:
1. Adjust your attitude.
When introverts introduce themselves, they tend to feel nervous, which makes them socially awkward. While introverts are unlikely to feel as calm as extroverts, introverts can interrupt the inner dialog that's making them nervous.
Boothman suggests preparing for the social event by standing in front of a mirror and saying the word "Great!" over and over, in as many different voices and expressions as possible. This creates what might be called a "brain scrambler."
When you're approaching a group of people or somebody whom you'd really like to meet, imagine yourself saying "great, great, great..." This interrupts your negative inner dialog long enough to take the plunge without becoming nervous.
2. Look them in the eye and smile.
Looking the other person in the eye, sounds pretty basic, but when meeting people introverts often look down or sideways to avoid making the other person uncomfortable, which can come off as arrogant.
The solution, according to Boothman is to notice (and mentally name) the color of the other person's eyes. This intellectual exercise forces you to make eye contact, so all you need do at that point is smile.
3. Open your body language.
This step is absurdly simple. Don't cross your arms or link your hands together, because those gestures communicate doubt and hostility. Instead, relax your shoulders, arms and hands, which creates a posture that shows you trust the other person.
4. Synchronize your voice and gestures.
If the other person is speaks fast, speak fast. If the other person speaks slowly, speak slowly. Observe how the other person is standing and gesturing. As you talk, mimic some (but not all) aspects of that posture and make similar (but not identical) gestures.
Extraverts synchronize unconsciously, but introverts typically must treat it as an intellectual exercise. The result is the same regardless: a sense of rapport between you and the other person.
5. Find common ground.
Rather than the usual business chit-chat, ask the kind of open-ended, slightly-off-the-wall question that you'd expect to come from a talk show host. (There are some good examples in my recent post 7 Quick Ways to Connect with Anybody.)
As you listen to the responses, find something that you and the other person have in common and ask a question or make an observation about it.
For example, suppose you ask "Just out of curiosity, what's on your bucket list?" and the other person wants to take a trip to Paris. If you've already been there, you can say something about your experience. If it's also on your bucket list, say so!
As find things in common with the other person, the conversation will gradually become more relaxed and natural. I tried this method at the Reader's Legacy awards and personally vouch that it works as promised.