Monday, January 01, 2007

Working a Room: Guide for the Introverted

As a self proclaimed introvert – I relate to your pain and anxiety.

We are all confronted with the daunting challenge of entering a room filled with hundreds of strangers yapping and shaking hands. We want to be like them, the carefree and confident, those that seem to smile and waive to everyone – they just walk by and are drawn into a new conversation.

Does this saga sound familiar? Before you leave you try to convince yourself you have more work and your time is best served staying in the office, but damn you RSVPed! While you drive to the venue you are already dreading the experience, thinking you can still go back to the office. By the time you park and are walking to your destination your heart beats faster, you start to think how short you can make your cameo appearance and leave.

As you enter you are overwhelmed by the crowd, your hands are clammy – so you wipe them off in case you have to actually shake someone’s hand. You have no clue where to go first – then off in the distance like an oasis rising from the Sahara desert you spot the safety net of the buffet and bar!

First of all most people in this world as just like you – Introverted! Second – being introverted is fabulous and don’t ever think anything less! We need our own theme song! So recognize who you are and be proud.

We cannot change our DNA, but here are some techniques to ease the anxiety level and make group networking experiences more manageable & comfortable.

Volunteer – Sign up to volunteer if possible. This affords you the status of being knowledgeable about the event and able to help others. Mentally you now have an official reason for being there. Think of yourself as more than just the regular attendee - you are part of the host team!

Early Bird – Much of the intimidation factor is the sheer size of the audience. So arrive very early – even offer to help set up. This gives you a chance to meet the organizers and other volunteers in a small setting. Busy work will help take your mind off the event and knowing the hosts make you feel like a part of the team. Often they will repay you for your help by making some introductions.

Don't Worry, Be Comfy – You will feel how you dress. You are already going to be nervous and stiff so don’t make it worse by wearing an itchy wool suit or stuffing yourself into an outfit you don’t really like and doesn’t flatter you. Wear something that you believe you look good in – if you think you look good you will feel good. Wear something comfortable – don’t push the envelope with flip flops and Bermuda shorts, but if you prefer a suit – wear one you really like, if you typically dress casual then allow yourself to be comfortable and still look professional. Caveat – Take into account the dress code of the event and don’t go to an extreme on either side.

Co-Pilot – Attend with a friend who is in a different business and help each other navigate the crowd. If you can go with someone who is more extroverted that is even better, but the goal is having a wingman/woman. It’s much easier and less stressful to travel in a group. You can take turns introducing each other to new people and allow your friend to brag about you. As a dynamic duo you can approach others as a team and neither of you will feel all alone in a swirling sea of networkers.

Seek out your fellow Introverts – Like a beached whale they are often not hard to spot – look against the walls, columns or other obstacles where they frequently attempt to camouflage themselves into the room! Others will stand in the middle with their snack observing the action all around trying to be invisible. Approach such folks and introduce yourself – they are just as uncomfortable and anxious as you. This allows you to practice approaching others. You may even find a buddy to work the room with.

Set Goals – Much like a fear of heights - A Fear of networking and interacting among a room of strangers cannot be conquered in one day. Baby Steps. Do not expect to incorporate all these suggestions at once. Integrate them slowly into your practice. Goals aid this process. Never commit to yourself to stay for a period of time – all you will do is monitor your watch like its 10 minutes to midnight on New Years Eve. Set goals that involve meeting people: Commit to introducing yourself to 5 new people and reconnecting with 5 others you already know to catch up. When you reach your goals you can leave, patting yourself on the back all the way out the door for a job well done.

Follow Up – You have overcome your doubts, fought through discomfort and achieved your goals! Don’t waste all that energy and exciting progress by not following up with those you met. This is the crucial step! How you respond sets the tone for who you are and how others remember you. Send each person an individual message, be it a phone call, email or note card – make it memorable and personalize the message. No room for generic stuff here! For those whom you want to meet again, simply invite them to have lunch or coffee.

Face to Face – This is where you shine! You can engage in a one on one conversation and truly spend energy getting to know someone on a personal and professional level. Relationships start with a face to face conversation. Such meetings are why you endured ands pushed yourself. Don’t launch into your sales pitch or dominate the conversation. Show genuine interest in them as a person – what they do outside work, their family, dreams etc. Think – how can you help them in terms of connecting them with others you know? They are testing your human being factor. Make sure you pass.

Always remember, people do business with those they like and trust. In every interaction and every conversation BE THAT PERSON!

Copyright © 2005 Strategic Business Network. All rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this article or any of its contents providing this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. Contact Judy by e-mail at or by telephone at (615) 474-1952.

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