“Be yourself, that’s the important thing”
Estimates of the percentage of introverts versus extroverts in the population vary considerably – the former accounting for anywhere from a third to half, and maybe less if you consider “ambiverts.”
Whatever the number is, I’d bet, based on personal experience, it’s even lower at networking events. I suspect I’m not alone in my lack of excitement about gatherings resuming in-peron in recent months. Reasons to stay home – which is where an introvert like me, well, feels most at home – aren’t as easy to come by anymore.
Chantelle Svensen-Lewis (Marketing ’01) can relate. She’s part of the gang, the one made up of members who really don’t want to be part of any gang. “I’m always the most introverted person in the room,” she admits.
But as a partner at Svensen Neighbour Recruiting and instructor in human resources at the JR Shaw School of Business, she knows the importance of making connections at events. For one thing, she points out, the vast majority of job opportunities aren’t advertised. They’re filled through professional networks.
Over the years, Svensen-Lewis – even if she gets more energy out of being on her own – has learned ways to become comfortable with the crowds and the chit-chat that, statistically, much of the world seems to embrace. Here are her tips to keep the quieter minority from being left out.
Know why you’re going
Before the event, consider what you want from it. “Maybe there’s a certain person you want to meet, or you want to expand your circle professionally to learn from others,” says Svensen-Lewis. Choosing a reason to motivate and guide you may reduce anxiety.
That said, don’t be too task-oriented, says Svensen-Lewis. Rather than be a human business card dispenser, go for meaningful conversations. Remembering you have something to offer is one way to do that. “Networking is a two-way street. It’s about sharing.”
Bring a friend
While it sounds like a bad way to meet new people, Svensen-Lewis suggests that bringing a friend has benefits. They’re there for you if you need a breather, someone to stand with quietly before taking a deep breath and plunging back into the crowd. If they’re more outgoing, they might also bring you into conversations.
Break into a conversation
Introverts might think it less painful to charge into a blazing building than to find their place in a conversation in progress. But it doesn’t have to mean getting burned.
In this case, introverts might lean into their strengths, which might include being patient, observant and listening carefully. “Try to round out the conversation,” says Svensen-Lewis.
Find your kind
There might not be many of you in attendance but you’re almost certainly not alone. Scan the room – check the corners, along the walls, near the snacks – and you will almost certainly find a kindred introvert.
To start a conversation, try focusing on the event itself, suggests Svensen-Lewis. How is the other person enjoying it? Then branch out. What industry are they from? What’s it like? And so on. Introduce yourself, sharing not just who you are, but where you work and what your job is.
One area to avoid with your new friend: “I really shy away from anything about someone’s appearance,” says Svensen-Lewis. “Compliment but be careful.”
Reconsider what counts as networking
“Networking events can be anything you want,” says Svensen-Lewis. “Our minds tend to go to a standup cocktail reception where it’s just a room full of 200 people with nothing to do but talk.”
Not anymore. Online events and mixers still exist, she points out. Webinars and digital learning events are also good for connecting. It’s also not out of the question, she adds, to reach out on LinkedIn for one-on-one interviews to learn about a company or industry.
“If COVID has taught us anything, we can be more picky about what we go to,” says Svensen-Lewis. “It has really changed.”
Let others in
If you’re the mythical introvert who has cracked a conversation group, know that power comes with responsibility, says Svensen-Lewis. When another comes looking for a way in, offer it.
“You know how you feel trying to break into a group,” she says. “If you see them on the outside trying to do the same, welcome them. It’s the professional thing to do.”
Networking events tend to require introverts to “turn it on,” says Svensen-Lewis. “It’s not like we don’t like talking to people,” she adds, but it tends to take more energy from us than it does from extroverts.
Flipping that switch, however, doesn’t mean acting. “I’m just going to be who I am and if that doesn’t allow me to connect with someone, then it’s not a fit,” says Svensen-Lewis.
“Try not to overthink it and just be yourself. That’s when the best results happen.”