I freely admit it. I fake being a social butterfly. People think I'm extroverted because I attend dozens of networking events and conferences every year, seemingly at ease working a crowd. However, these events can be anxiety-inducing for me. I wouldn't say I'm an introvert exactly; I'm more of an ambivert. So according to most definitions of that term, I can appreciate social situations, but also relish time alone. I've noticed that the alone-time helps me recharge so I actually have energy and focus for when I have to be extroverted.
Networking specifically can be especially tough for introverts. The prospect of connecting and impressing important people in an industry can make shy individuals want to crawl back into bed. However, networking is essential to modern business. Overcoming personal apprehensions can be easier than you may think when you learn to approach networking as more than just an individual. Adopting the mindset of an advocate can help keep nervousness away, even for those of us who struggle in social situations.
Communication is more seamless than ever, and businesses not only need to connect and communicate with their customers, but also other businesses and industry figures. Conventions and other social events are fantastic opportunities to expand your company’s sphere of influence, both for potential sales and future partnerships. Capitalizing on these opportunities requires active social engagement.
1. Look and act the part.
Doing your research ahead of the event will help you tremendously. Once you have an idea of what events and people may be in attendance, start thinking of ways you could create a conversation. Make sure you look the part for your brand and dress accordingly. Additionally, taking a break immediately before the event for even ten or fifteen minutes can help calm nerves and provide a bit of peace of mind if you’re nervous about striking up conversations. Feel free also to take a break or meditate during the event too. This will help ensure you have the stamina to interact effectively for longer periods.
You can never guess exactly how any conversation will go, but having some ideas about how your brand may connect with others beforehand certainly helps. Try to have lots of short conversations, and attempt to follow up later during the event. Knowing that you’re only going to have a brief conversation can be helpful if you’re nervous about starting one, and then you can pursue your follow-up conversations with more confidence. Often, people who struggle with extroverted activity find that once the ice has already been broken, it’s much easier to pick up a conversation later.
2. Prioritizing time and new leads.
If you’re attending the event on behalf of your company, then it is crucial to put your best foot forward. Play to your strengths, and don’t be afraid to prioritize your time. Some conventions will have several speakers or special events at specified times. See if any are related, even just a little bit, to your brand. If so, you may want to attend and see if any audience members may be potential leads. A speaking event or something similar is also good conversation material afterward if you struggle with breaking the ice with strangers. If a particular event, conversation, or area holds measurable potential, dedicate time to cultivate that connection.
Some may struggle with speaking one-on-one, and others don’t like speaking in front of large groups. If conversations are difficult for you but you don’t mind delivering a prepared speech, consider booking a time slot during the event to get your message out more comfortably. This naturally paves the way for easier personal conversations afterward, and can help you ease into the social setting.
Regardless of your approach, think of yourself as the face and voice of your brand in these situations. Your goal for any type of convention or industry event should be to form a handful of close connections. Don’t spread yourself too thin and attempt to follow up with every potential lead. Instead, prioritize the connections you’ve made and address them accordingly. Speak thoughtfully about your business with others, and try to answer questions as precisely as possible. When talking with strangers, vagueness doesn’t help your organization appear trustworthy.
3. Overcoming nerves
Introverts may have a tough time starting conversations, but once you find a handful of solid leads, it will be much easier when you visit them again later to touch base. Look for common ground with potential contacts and establish value to one another. You want to keep things professional, but don’t shy away from injecting a bit of fun if you get along well with some of the people you meet. Modern business is fast-paced, and strong bonds are increasingly uncommon, so don’t pass up the chance to forge a solid connection with the appropriate colleague.
Often times in business you have to "fake it 'til you make it." That goes for being a social butterfly too. If you struggle with social scenarios, try to remember that you’re not just a representative of your individual self. Many fears about conversation stem from self-esteem and confidence issues, so assume the strength of your brand as your own and convey value to the people you meet. Remember, they are attending to create meaningful bonds as well and may be just as apprehensive as you are.