We often hear that a phone call is much better than email in making an impression. But to make a real impression, we need to find a way to meet with someone face to face. Even if it means researching their favorite restaurant and requesting a booth next to their own for their daily lunch. That's real initiative! (I didn't event that idea, either. I have talked to those who have employed this creepy tactic to meet CEOs.)
This spectrum of least personal to most personal is particularly popular within the world of networking advice.
"Nothing beats putting a name to a face. Not to mention it shows initiative and motivation to show up somewhere a person is, and introduce yourself with a nice firm handshake."
Okay. That is one way of doing it, I suppose. It is not my way of doing it 90% of the time because I am Too XYZ to be comfortable with such encounters merely for networking or information gathering, (or lord forbid, self marketing) purposes. And I am a firm believer in being comfortable when you are doing any of the above.
Think about it. Would you rather be totally at ease when interacting for the first few times with someone that holds potential value in your eyes? Whether that value be to your career, you craft, or just your social presence, does it do you any good to engage them in a manner that is totally unnatural to you? Can you possibly be putting your best foot forward when you are rerouting 50% of your total brain power towards not allowing your palms sweat before a handshake? Can someone give a good first impression, no matter how cool they are on the outside when in their head they are screaming to themselves: "EYE CONTACT! EYE CONTACT! EYE CONTACT! EYE CONTACT! EYE CONTACT!"
My answer to all of these is, no, you cannot. And should not. At least at first.
Now I have heard the bogus argument before that extroverts run the world, and in order to be a part of it, introverts must essentially become extroverts or get left behind. If you have read this blog at least twice you know by now I don't buy into that. Introverts can and have been major players in all aspects of life and history even before the digital era.
The key is to be open and honest about our comfort zones. Yes, yes, I can hear many extrovert gurus out there slaughtering their unblemished cyber-lambs at the High Altar of Leaving Your Comfort Zone. The whole notion to such people is not unlike narcotics, and they want to peddle it to anyone and everyone on the street. And as with every approach to life and success, there is some merit to the concept of not being comfortable. Success may require you to be outside of some proverbial comfort zone at some point. But I have yet to hear a solid argument in favor of indiscriminately jumping out of one's comfort zone just for the sake of being uncomfortable. Oh people do it, and even declare it is necessary, but nobody ever explains why to my satisfaction.
So I offer a different approach to introverts, and others out there that are Too XYZ but want to show initiative in connecting with others:
Tell the new contact the truth about how uncomfortable you are about certain things.
You learn that the founder of a successful local company about which you would love to know more is appearing at a local festival, let's say. (Maybe she likes organic tomatoes, what do I know?) Many would suggest you go to the festival, introduce yourself with your damned elevator pitch and set up a meeting to learn more. What an extroverted, motivated thing to do! But if person to person contact with new people, and especially those whom you admire makes you nervous, you shouldn't try to approach this CEO at the festival. Even if the festival is right across the street from your house. Even if a million and one people say you will make a bigger impression if you so do. Even if the blogosphere is flooded with post after post of how someone got their dream job by bugging the piss out of some important CEO at a convention until they relented. For it is better to make five more subtle, gradual authentic impressions from a zone of comfort, then one awkward, uncomfortable and not very productive impression right away.
So do your research and send this CEO a brief email explaining that you admire their work and their company, and would like to know more, but are not comfortable with meeting face to face. You tell them among other things that you tend to lose your train of thought out in public sometimes, or in crowded spaces, or wherever. But that if they are willing you have a few questions and ideas that you would like to share with them via a longer email which they can read at their leisure.
If the CEO is willing and understanding of your particular concern as well as interested in your ideas, they should be more than willing to correspond in that way. If they ignore your email, or are otherwise dismissive, saying "I only discuss business in my office before work on Monday mornings. I have a life and can't take any time for fan mail," then you probably have not lost anything by not connecting with such a person.
People are people, even if they try to act otherwise. All have positives and negatives as measured against the metric of "social expectations". But when we allow ourselves to become so myopic as to think there is one precise, effective, proper way to introduce ourselves to others, (or for them to introduce themselves to us) we begin to diminish not only them, but ourselves. Our discomforts, weaknesses, quirks and flaws make us who we are just as much as our strengths and abilities do.
Of course we need to be sure we are not suffering from some crippling mental disorder, and that we are not violating someone's privacy or safety when we approach them in our own fashion. Yet we can go a long way in truly promoting ourselves to the movers and shakers if we just accept, and ask them to accept, what we can and cannot do. It may take some extra creativity and time, but being Too XYZ should not isolate you from the power brokers and influentials.
Have you ever tried to share an idea or introduce yourself to someone in a way that made you uncomfortable just because you were told it would be "more effective"? How did it turn out?