I consider myself a high-functioning introvert, but it’s still sometimes difficult for me to attend social events and open up to people, even if I've met them before.
(In the Myers-Briggs personality test, I’m an INFJ and in the Enneagram of Personality, I’m a Type 4.)
Introverts tend to be reflective and withdrawn, yet usually feel safe and thrive in one-to-one, deep, intimate and personal relationships.
But in order to find those relationships, we introverts need to put ourselves out there in sometimes uncomfortable situations to meet people in ways we can stretch but not tear.
Being a small business entrepreneur and an introvert to boot can present challenges when it comes to networking. Small talk can be intimidating and doesn’t come especially easy for introverts, and it takes a lot of effort to establish rapport with people we’ve just met.
Over the years I have been in business, I have picked up a few tips and tricks to share with you that have helped me navigate Chamber of Commerce events, business-to-business meetings, big gatherings, and mastermind groups.
Full disclosure: I vividly recall twice in my career when I had implemented the 10-Minute Rule, drove to the event, parked the car in the parking lot, only to sit there and watch people walk in, then turned myself around and drove back home.
Don’t Be A Leech:
Once I arrive at an event, in order to not cling on to one person I feel especially comfortable with and hold them hostage, I commit in advance to meeting three to five new people.
Conversely, if someone latches on to me –- probably another introvert or even worse for an introvert, an energy vampire -- I state to the person I am talking to that I am "stretching myself to grow in social settings," and I tell them that I committed to meeting three to five people at the event. I thank them for understanding and I might ask them if they can introduce me to someone!
Match Body Language:
Work on listening skills if you don’t know what to say. If all else fails, match another person’s mannerisms. Turn your body at a 45-degree angle from the other person if facing them is too intense.
Be authentic and not someone you think they want you to be. If you don't know how to interact or feel frozen, at least observe and use the information you acquire as information to grow and use at the next event.
Side note: It's important to try to show up. I feel like people need at least three contacts with you before they consider using your services:
1. They need to know your name;
2. They need to know what you have to offer;
3. There needs to be trust or a connection.
Ask a Buddy:
Sometimes I will try to find someone I already know in the business community who belongs to a networking group already. I might ask them ahead of time, hey, I'm a little nervous and a little introverted, would it be okay if I look for you when I get there?
Once I find that person at the event and become familiar with my surroundings then with their support, I'm able to venture out from my comfort zone.
Be Prepared and Be Organized:
I wear a name tag on my right side chest so that when someone reaches for my hand to shake it, they can see my name and business right there without diverting their eyes, and perhaps immediately start a conversation either about my name or what I have to offer.
I wear pants or a jacket with two pockets, one on each side. I will keep all my own business cards in the left pocket and all the cards I collect in the right pocket. When I meet someone, I can then extend my right hand to shake their hand and I know that my own business cards are in the left pocket easily grabbing one with my left hand.
Then if they offer me their card, I put their business card in my right pocket so I don't get them all mixed together and have to fumble through cards during the next introduction.
As a small business owner you probably already know how important it is to attend networking events in order to build your business. Whether you are introverted or not, I hope that you find these hints useful. If you have any other hints to share, leave them in a comment!
MICHELE DUNCAN KING
Licensed Massage Therapist
Registered Yoga Teacher