Thursday, October 21, 2010

Five Ways to Make Networking Events Introvert Friendly

"The world, especially business, runs on extroverts."

Horseshit.

Oh, it's easier to assume that it does, because by their very nature extroverts make the most noise, and work twice as hard to get noticed for…whatever it is an extrovert needs to be noticed for at any given nano-second.

But some of the best thinkers, and game changers have in fact been introverts. And while the era in which they lived, the nature of their work, or plain luck may have had something to do with their eventual success, you can bet that being an introvert played a large role regardless. Therefore to write off introverts as some kind of backward, dying breed is not only lazy, it is foolish from a cultural and business stand point. Yet often people make this mistake because introverts do not excel, (or have much interest in) the "look at this fantastic thing I can do, and don't you want me to do it for you!" school of networking.

If, however, you are a wise recruiter, company, or guru, you will actively cultivate relationships with introverts. For just as extroverts have many obvious "advantages" over us, we have many subtle advantages over extroverts.

But you don't meet us in the same ways, by and large. You have to work a little harder then free coffee and Nilla Wafers at the local AmVets building. You can't just turn us loose and watch the sparks fly. We don't work in sparks. So for those who do want to explore the Introvert Advantage, I have some advice for you;

Start creating networking events designed specifically for us.

Want to see a well planned networking event fill up faster than you can say "business card"? Proudly label it as an introvert friendly event. The introverted in the population would likely be jumping out of windows in order to get to it faster. That's because we introverts know how much people unfairly cater to extroverts. And we don't want to play that game. We want to contribute and meet people on our terms. Give us the chance to do so, and most of us will be there.

How? Read on…

1) Get away from the bars.

I have spoken to some people about this recently on Brazen Careerist, and though a few were inclined to prefer the boisterous, loud and "stimulating" environment of a bar as the perfect place to make new contacts, most actually shared my disdain for such networking events. I can't say all of them were introverts, but I feel comfortable thinking most introverts are not going to be into such an atmosphere when it comes to networking and marketing. Too crowded. Too noisy. Too…unpredictable.

The solution? If introverts want to network, the strictly networking events should be the opposite of bars. Quiet. Intimate. Spacious. Relaxing. Hold a meet and greet, networking style event in the local independent coffee house perhaps. Rent a whole room if they have one. Or perhaps a conference room at the local library. Anywhere an introvert can actually think, and process what is going on before reacting to it. They need that in order to thrive, so let them have that by meeting in a location suited to such.

2) Prepare a Syllabus/Homework

Introverts like to know the purpose of most things before they proceed. The more information they have on something, the more likely they are to speak or act on it. If the entire mission for an event is "Come meet people!" introverts on a good day will simply say no thanks. On most days, they'll laugh. That is because to an introvert, "meeting people" is not its own end in most cases. Such an event requires them to enter a totally random crowd, pointlessly meander about until they are warm enough to engage someone (if they ever are), and then try to begin a conversation that has specific merit. That is what we do. And since small talk has zero actual merit other than to exist, most introverts hate it.

But what if those who registered for a local event were emailed a list of things that were going to happen at the event? They knew who would be in charge, and where that person could be found upon arriving. Will there be any speakers, or will it be all free flow? Refreshments? What kind? This will give an introvert a plan. An idea of what to expect.

Even better, if they are told, "please bring with you answers to these five questions", they will be even more happy to attend, because that provides instant and common purpose for all attendees. Those five questions will be relevant to what is happening at the event. And it is through engaging in something that introverts more often get to know strangers. This leads well into my next bit of advice.

3) Do….Something!

We get it. Extroverts love talking to people as an activity unto itself. Which is why topics that have no real bearing on the day, or on anything, will suffice. That is the tool by which extroverts dig into the nature of someone, and find nuggets to harvest a relationship.

To introverts, that is just dirt flying everywhere. We hate being dirty, you know.

So give us a task at the event. Be creative with this, but don't be complex, either. Not yet anyway. If you set a goal for the evening, and introverts will come knowing what that goal is, you will get more out of them. Because then something tangible is being accomplished. Perhaps instead of thumping music, drunk co-eds, and numbers on napkins, as in a bar, the social focus is a discussion of a movie that will be played. Or maybe the organizer of the particular event has a very specific idea or obstacle they would like to share with the group. Remember the syllabus? Put this on there, and introverts will come to your event with all kinds of things to suggest. And through discussing the problem, or accomplishing the goal, or responding to the specific stimulus the event offers, introverts will be sharing who and what they are, and at what they excel.

And as a side note, get to this pretty quickly. If the event starts at 7:00, get the ball rolling at 7. The quicker you engage in the mission of the evening, the earlier the introverts will feel involved. Number Four on this list is related.

4) Share Ideas/Theories as Opposed to Identities/Positions

"What's your name? And what do you do? Here is what I do, and a 30 second pitch as to how what I do can help you do what you do. Since this isn't about me, it's about helping you."

Yeah right. That sort of crap isn't like running fingernails against a chalkboard for an introvert. It's more like running one's own teeth against a chalkboard.

Instead of introducing yourself and what you "do", and what you can do for someone else, (that old standby), what if you introduced who you were by sharing your biggest idea to a stranger? i have a Brazen conversation about this recently as well. Think of it...

"I'm Lisa, and my big idea is to find a way to incorporate electronic book readers with instant messenger services so that I can have part of a book sent to me at random times during the day to keep it interesting and non-invasive while I am at work!"

I already want to know more about Lisa and her idea. I want her to explain it to me. And, the shocker is, I will actually ask her. Yes, this introvert would ask the question. Because you see I have something substantial about which to talk. I don't have to do any of that digging.

5) Specialize.

This one isn't new. It does happen already. Yet not as often as the general "business card swap" type of events where a bunch of people gather in a room with bad coffee, and try really hard to pretend they find one another interesting.

I have been to one of those ever, and I was 30 years old before I did it. Guess what? It is highly unlikely I will ever go to another, because it sucked for me in all the ways I predicted it would.

But if the event were specifically for writers, I would more likely go. Because I at least know what everyone there is doing, or trying to do. And it would once again provide me with a specific to discuss, instead of small talk. Introverts like to know why they are where they are any given time. And as I said, "meeting people" is not enough. But meeting other writers? Other graphic designers? Other accountants? That we can handle.

This approach doesn't prevent one from encountering an extrovert, but I think it is the standard event format that comes closest to catering to the introvert way of thinking.

****

So there you have it. Five ideas to open up networking events to introverts. Or shall I say, open up introverts to networking events. There are more, of course, and ideally, a great event would combine two or more of these suggestions.

Introverts are here to stay, and networks, businesses, and extroverts ought to get used to that. One good way to balance things out is to make an already difficult process much easier for these highly valuable people.

9 comments:

Trish Cardona said...

Go introverts! Yes we can rule the world, albeit reluctantly! =)

JMH said...

These are really, really solid suggestions. I don't know that I'm introverted so much as completely bored with and utterly impatient about small talk and socializing with strangers without a specific focus/plan of attack, but if I were to run a networking event (and now you've got me thinking about doing just that), this is the no nonsense approach I would take. I could see it appealing to anyone who identifies as a doer vs. a rapport builder.

Ty Unglebower said...

Trisha, I think maybe we already do! =)

And JMH, let me know if you do host/organize an event that implements any of these suggestions. I'd love to know how it goes.

And you make a good point. These approaches would not be strictly for introverts. As you say, they may be useful for anyone who is more action oriented and less inclined towards small talk. But I dare say a very large percentage of introverts would benefit from these 5.

Jamie Nacht Farrell said...

First, I'm interested in who stated the quote at the top, "The world, especially business, runs on extroverts."? Anyone who has been a part of a team or run a successful business knows this is (as you said) bullshit; so I would certainly start by ignoring that quote and whoever said it - get them out of your network.

You have a fantastic concept here - introvert networking events and catering to them. Have you thought about building it out?

That said, I would 'argue' that 'networking' is not necessarily a function of personality type ie; introverts vs. extraverts - but is a skill as well. I know multiple successful business men / women who are introverts, but do have to "play the game". Typically, you're looking at a CFO, CTO (or on a lower level - someone in finance, analytics, tech, etc.) - and in each of these roles, while they may not require schmoozing (as a sales/marketing role does) - they do require people to give presentations, participate in group discussions, etc.

So, by developing a network solely for introverts, you are allowing people to escape / hide from "uncomfortable" situations. Throwing oneself into an uncomfortable situation is the only way one can grow (both personally and professionally) and get better.

Similarly, extraverts have to do a lot of things they are uncomfortable with. I've been to numerous networking events at both coffee houses and bars both - and to me - the thought of personality type never enters my head. I'm a business person - period. I'm there to meet other business people. If business people are or have been successful, they have likely either acquired (or are trying to acquire) new skill sets - one being networking.

In order to be successful in life; don't pigeonhole yourself - even if you are predisposed to be an extrovert or introvert; it's having the courage to do things that MAKE you uncomfortable that will lead you to success.

Scott Bravard said...

As an introvert myself, I think you make some good points. I agree 1,000% with your point #1 - I think the issue is that many of the people who plan these events just want an excuse to hang out in bars. :)

Neil said...

This is a very interesting read. The nature of the introvert really quite jars with the idea of networking events. But of course they attend for the good of their business, but is it more successful for extroverts? Maybe. I'm fairly introverted and recently attended several Business Networking Events South Yorkshire over the Summer and I did find them quite useful. In a way I think it's a balancing act and that introverts get noticed because of the difference between the extroverts that are there.

Anonymous said...

So much of this gels with me. I am an introvert by nature but I do make an effort to get out of my comfort zone at networking events because I know this is the way to grow my circle. However I totally welcome these suggestions. For me, the sense of purpose or focus, and having an idea of the function's structure relieves so many underlying "fears" of being stuck for a subject to discuss or what's coming next...A big plus is these suggestions can be implemented and extroverts will have no inkling. Introverts of the world will thank you..quietly

Steph Auteri said...

Okay. I FINALLY got to read this. As an introvert with an interest in event planning, I loved the suggestions you came up with for planning a networking event that introverts could feel comfortable at.

I actually planned a speed networking event last year for word nerds and, as in introvert, this was obviously something that was at the forefront of my mind. After all, I've been to SO MANY events at which I cowered in the corner with a glass of wine, accomplishing nothing (which was due not only to my introversion, but to my social anxiety as well).

When I decided to undertake the task of planning my own event, I focused on the needs of introverts. I made the event a speed networking event, as I personally feel that the scariest part of networking is approaching someone and starting a conversation. I felt a more structured event would eliminate this.

I also did up a post on successful networking, and emailed these tips to all attendees beforehand. It suggested things like researching the guest experts (whose bios I provided), developing goals for the event beforehand, etc.

And I really highlighted that this was an introvert-friendly event in my marketing materials. So many writers I know are introverts like myself, so I felt it best to target them.

I hope to do more events in the future, and will be sure to bookmark your post so I can incorporate your ideas. Vive la Introverts! ;)

Ty Unglebower said...

Steph, sounds like your event would be just up my alley. If you do more of them, I'd like to hear more details about how it goes, what it accomplished, and so on.

Your comment also gave me another idea that could be added to this list. If the organizer paired up two introverts, via email introductions before the event, each person would have someone to talk to right away upon arriving, instead of inserting themselves into some other conversation. (Which I imagine, was sort of the nature of the speed-networking event you created.)