I'm considered an "INTJ" in the Myers-Briggs universe of personality types. Without dissecting what this acronym means here, simply put, it means that I lean toward the "introvert" end of the personality spectrum.
This does not mean that I don't enjoy meeting new people. Quite the contrary: I love to establish new connections and make new friends, particularly when I get the chance to meet people in person at large events, like conferences.
I've gotten a lot better at networking over the years, and today I feel pretty comfortable meeting new people at such events. But it hasn't always come so naturally; I didn't get to where I'm at today without a little bit of study and a lot of practice.
Here are a few tips for introverts trying to network at large events:
1. Have a plan.
While a lot of networking at large conferences is spontaneous, I still like to have a few specific relationship-building goals in mind. I try to go into a conference knowing whom I'd like to meet, when and where I might be able to meet them, and the one or two things I'd like to get out of my meeting with them. Most conference organizers offer speaker and attendee bios on their websites or on a mobile app. This is useful information that you can mine as you craft your networking plan.
2. Prepare your elevator pitch.
There's going to be a certain level of repetition to the type of questions you'll be asked when you meet someone new at a conference, and the type of questions you'll want to ask in return. Try to nail your "elevator pitch" beforehand-- the succinct description of who you are and what you do. I try to convey two or three pieces of basic information that cover what I do in my day job, my personal passions or projects outside of work, and the reason why I'm at the conference. Similarly, I try to ask these few bits of basic information of everyone I meet.
3. Take the initiative.
At one conference I attended recently, I wanted to meet one of the high-profile speakers who was on the agenda. Seeing my one chance to meet this person potentially slip away if I didn't take the initiative, I stepped up to him and introduced myself. Contrary to whatever assumptions I held about his approachability until then, he was very warm and engaging, and we had a great conversation and exchanged contact information and a promise to follow-up with each other. If I hadn't taken the initiative, I would have never met him.
4. Be approachable.
In my experience, introverts often unconsciously send body language cues that they do not want to be approached at an event. But with a bit of practice, this can be corrected. Here are a few tips:
- Try to establish eye contact with people you aren't currently speaking with but would like to get to know.
- Position yourself near people you want to meet, and wait for an opportunity to introduce yourself. Try sitting or standing next to someone you want to meet at lunch or during one of the coffee breaks.
- Leave your smartphone in your pocket or purse, and save your email checks and social media updates for later.
5. Mix and mingle.
I like to go deep in my conversations with some of the people I meet, but sometimes at the risk of spending a little too much time with one or two people while missing out on meeting other people.
While there's no hard and fast rule about how long you should talk to someone , I do try to mix and mingle at conferences so I can meet more people.
Rotating seats at a table so you can meet more people at the table you're sitting at -- or switching to a different table altogether-- is one tactic that smart event organizers use to facilitate interactions among attendees at dining events.
6. Take time to recharge.
Large events can be draining for introverts, which is why you should take some time to recharge if you feel your energy levels ebbing. You could simply step outside to grab some fresh air and steal some time to be alone. Or you could take a power nap in your hotel room (which can be particularly helpful if you're suffering from jet lag).
I try to visualize having my own personal battery as a way to monitor my energy levels. Being conscious of my own energy levels --and not just obsessing about the little power bar on my smartphone --reminds me that I too need to recharge from time to time.
So take the initiative. Extend your hand. Smile. And start meeting new people. You never know: Some of them might change the course of your career--or even become life-long friends.