At a recent conference a woman in a very small voice asked if I had any tips for shy people about networking. She said she worried that this activity that was crucial to business development was going to be impossible for her to do well. I didn’t tell her to buck up or find five topics to wow people with or practice conversation starters. You can do all of those things but I always default to something more basic. I told her that at every networking event there is another shy person, (hell truth be told there are probably a gaggle of shy people) trying to move time with their mind and do everything they can to escape the pain of holding up the wall and finding something to say. Find your person and make contact. Help someone else feel included and less afraid by introducing yourself. Don’t think about collecting business cards, think about making every uncomfortable out of place person, feel acknowledged. Make it your mission to attend networking events for the sole purpose of finding lost souls needing a little compassion and decency. Isn’t that a lovely goal? Doing good makes you feel good. Good things happen when you do good things. I remind people that people rarely remember any of what you said, they remember how you made them feel. Imagine how powerful it is to make someone feel included. Imagine how well people will remember that you were the person who extended your hand while they were feeling invisible, uncertain and anxious. All the polished elevator pitches and slick one liners cannot possibly stack up to making another human being feel…well, human.
Business development need not be the domain of the world’s extraverts nor do introverts among us need to try to fit into strategies designed for social butterflies. I think that some of the goals that supposed experts espouse are ridiculous and utterly useless. I cringe when someone suggests that people collect as many business cards as they can as if that has any correlation to developing business. I’m not a fan of speed networking, card collecting and other activities that reduce networking to a superficial exercise to artificially inflate your database so you can send out quarterly newsletters to people who don’t know you. You will not get clients with this strategy; you’ll just get a lot of people unsubscribing from your database.
Yes, it’s important to look people in the eye, have a strong handshake and write a note about the person on the back of their card so you remember who they are; these are good and practical things. But don’t become seduced by advice that won’t suit you. It’s like buying a cheap, ill-fitting jacket that you’ll never wear because it makes you feel ridiculous.
To my dear introverted readers, please know that a world of introverts awaits your introduction at every event and you’re kindness to include will never be forgotten. And to my fellow extraverts, know that the rules of inclusion apply to you as well. When you see someone standing outside of your circle, notice and make your circle wider.