I’m in Startcon.com in Sydney (I live in Brisbane ) and I’ve been really excited.
So what? I hear you say… We’ll I’m an introvert. I work from home and love it. I recharge my batteries in my own head, and the idea of being in a group of five or more people without a structure or discussion topic genuinely strikes fear into my heart.
But Startcon is different. Startcon has structure. Startcon has deliberate topics. And at Startcon, we’re all there for the same reason, more or less. We share a common interest and want to learn.
So as an introvert, I’m going to share a few tips that I’ve found work well for me at large scale networking events where you don’t know many people.
1) Know at least one person. I call my person my conference buddy and I’m pretty upfront. I need this person as my fall back. I might find myself two or three people deep into networking, but when the anxiety strikes, I’m heading back. (Jen- I’m looking at you here).
2) Ask questions and talk about the other person. You’ve got two ears and one mouth, as I often stay to my eight-year-old daughter – or as she has put it ‘smart people ask questions and dumb people talk’. OK, so that overly simplistic but the basic concept holders true, you’ll learn a lot more if you’re listening than talking. As an introvert, this also means you do less of the talking and more of the listening. So when you’re introduced to someone, ask questions, keep them coming and work out what this new person’s interests are and get them talking.
3) Offer to help. When you’re inevitably asked what you do, keep your story short on succinct and then turn it around quickly. For me, I’m a marketing expert so I might say. I’m a marketing consultant with 20 years online marketing experience and three start-ups of my own….. how could I help you with your business?
The trick here is that I’ve now aligned my credentials with the answer to their business issues. If the conversation flows then everyone wins.
4) Oh s&*! , I’m struggling. That moment you realise this networking movement has moved into an awkward position. Enter the business card. When I realise that the conversation has moved into small talk and I’m struggling, I go for the business card ‘get out’. “I’ve actually got to go now but here’s my business card, let’s connect on Linkedin and keep this conversation going.” This isn’t me being rude I swear! I’m just well outside my comfort zone and really need to leave.
5) Self-deprecating humour. I try not to take my self too seriously and find that if you want to break down the communication barriers, removing yours first is a strong first step.
I can talk about my upside down head (my beard stubble compensates for the thinning hear on my head) or that I’m really not in shape. It’s amazing how revealing a vulnerability can be a powerful disarming strategy.
6) Don’t over expend, making one solid connection is worth 10 passing connections. Don’t stress about the number of business cards or LinkedIn connections you make, focus on the quality of those connections.
7) Smartphone crutch – there is always something to do on your phone. You might be in the real world, but when you’re stuck it’s OK to report to the online world and tweet. Taking a break and writing down your thoughts not only gives you a free pass but could potentially lead to new connections.
So there are my seven tips for an introvert and a conference. So if you’re reading this, and you meet me this week you might recognise me using one of these seven techniques. It’s not you; it’s me. I’m not trying anything deceptive or calculating; I’m just dealing with a few thousand people and a billion different potential social situations. And, I honestly do want to help you.