How to Network at a Conference When You’re an Introvert
We’re heading to Pubcon later this year, and one of the benefits of attending any conference is networking. This is an exciting word for an extrovert and a very scary word for an introvert.
In case you’re new to the world of introverts & extroverts, here’s the bullet point definitions:
- • Extroverts get their energy from others (i.e. social situations) and enjoy going to networking events
- • Introverts recharge when they are alone and tend to avoid networking events or go to them with trepidation
Based upon various studies; introverts make up 16%-50% of the world’s population. There are many of us (no one seems to know how many); and some are more extreme than others. I’ve been an extreme introvert for years. For those of you who know me, this might seem like a contradiction. I speak all over the world and on a Myers Briggs scale; I’m over 85% introvert.
So how does an introvert become a good networker? Let’s take a look at a few of the secrets.
Who Starts the Conversation?
The hardest part of a conversation is getting it started. Once a conversation is started, then it can build momentum and continue on its own.
Extroverts are great at starting conversations. Introverts need strategies for this simple task.
The easiest way for an introvert to start a conversation is to not start it; but let others start it. There are a few ways to accomplish this. By far the easiest is to just have a bit of publicity behind your name so someone else wants to ask you a question. For instance, these are activities that can put your name out there, so others hear you and want to ask you a question:
- • Join in on a Twitter (such as #PPCCHAT) or Pubcon conversation.
- • Join Facebook groups about your favorite subject or the Pubcon Facebook group
- • Comment on LinkedIn
- • Write blog posts.
- • Do webinars.
- • Be a guest on a podcast.
- • Speak at a conference.
Social media is great for introverts. They can socialize while at home in a private & secure environment, choose their moments of when to get involved and decide when to stay silent. With podcasts, speaking events, and webinars – there’s already a topic. You get to share your expertise without having to go through small talk.
Social media can be a conundrum for introverts. It’s great for us and we totally don’t understand it or get its appeal to others.
If you join in with social media, speaking, or sharing your expertise online; others will see it and start the conversation for you. Often, they will have a question about something you said or wrote and voila – you’re in a conversation.
This is why introverts should speak at conferences. You get a chance to introduce yourself to a group without being judged and get to share your amazing ideas. Once it’s done (and it always goes much faster than you think it will); people will approach you and start the conversation. That’s introvert networking at its finest 🙂
How to Start the Conversation Yourself
Sometimes it’s difficult to start with social media or you just don’t have the time before a show to get highly involved. While just joining and posting on a LinkedIn or Facebook groups isn’t that hard (of course, this is coming from someone who logs into Facebook roughly every 6-8 weeks); there are ways that you can start the conversation.
The easiest is to just sit in a session, listen to the speakers, write down some follow-up questions, and then ask for further explanation during a networking event. Most speakers are willing to share their knowledge and thoughts. It takes a lot of work to put together a good presentation, and often material they wanted to talk about can’t fit into their limited time slot, so asking them questions will often jump into a highly detailed and interesting conversation about the topic.
Do some research beforehand. Writing blog posts, doing webinars, and participating in podcasts takes time and energy. Once again, those who write, and share are often willing to continue to do so; and it doesn’t hurt that it’s obvious you read (watched, listened to, etc) their material – which makes people happy that their message is being spread around the web.
Make some notes and follow-up questions to their content and ask them in person. It helps to first look at who is speaking at the event, or look at social groups that are going, and follow them around the web for a bit noting what they share and talk about.
Ask for an Introduction
If you’ve made a friend who seems to know someone you’d like to know – just ask for an introduction. Before every show, I generally get a few emails from friends and colleagues asking me to keep an eye out for Y as it’s their first show or something. I’m willing to say hi and make any introductions for them as there’s a shared mutual friend involved.
You can also just send a polite email on LinkedIn asking to chat at the show. If your message is replied to, then you have your opening.
Don’t fret if your message is ignored. Personally, I don’t have the time to reply to every LinkedIn email I receive, and I don’t login to Facebook enough to even know I have messages (and I have never installed/used Facebook messenger). It’s not that someone is just ignoring you – it might be a time/communication issue as well.
The Hardest Part of Networking for an Introvert
Doing some research and sitting in sessions is the easiest part of networking for an introvert. The second hardest thing is to ask a question. The hardest thing to do – actually decide to attend the networking event.
If you’re an extreme introvert, don’t jump right into the full networking events. Start during the conference. There’s time at breakfast, lunch, and between sessions for a short chat. Conference attendees are smart (that’s why their boss or themselves paid to be there) and nice people. Just ask a follow-up question between sessions or sit at a breakfast table and ask what sessions the other people are looking forward to seeing. Those are natural conversation starters?
The second hardest thing to do is ask the question and start the conversation. That’s where the ‘small talk’ is often beyond introverts. Here’s some easy ones:
- • Conference based:
- • What did you think of that session?
- • What did you learn today?
- • I think X did a great job, have you seen her speak before?
- • What do you think of that idea X (insert something interesting about the session)
- • What sessions are you going to go to today?
- • Who do you think the must see speakers are?
- • People based:
- • What type of work do you do?
- • How do you like working for X (look at name badge for company)
- • Common interest:
- • How is your job changing with X (some new industry change)?
- • What do you think of Y (some new industry change)?
- • Common enemies (everyone loves to share their frustration with the search engines):
- • What do you think of that new change Google/Bing/Facebook/etc did that everyone seems to be complaining about?
- • Industry:
- • How do you see the future of this industry evolving?
- • What are you doing to prepare for our robot overlords? (i.e. machine learning & AI will take over the world)
Topics to stay clear of:
- • Religion & politics are the easy ones
- • Pop culture: Many introverts enjoy the arts, but could care less about actor names, celebrity lives, and so forth. Unless you know the subject well; it’s best to avoid these topics as you’ll often get lost very quickly. I enjoy many TV shows. I have no idea of the majority of actor & actresses names in the shows, let alone who they are married to or their kids…
- • Work complaints: You might work with some of these people one day, don’t complain about your boss or co-workers as it’ll make you look petty or question your work habits if they one day have to work with you
- • How drunk you are: There’s a lot of drinks in Vegas. No one likes the idiot drunk. If you have a few too many beers, enjoy, but don’t flaunt it
- • Things you find stupid. All of us have topics we just find dumb from too many cat memes to why the same person can possibly direct both Star Trek & Star Wars movies. What you find stupid someone else will enjoy and it’ll cause natural friction that you want to avoid.
- • Sarcasm: I love sarcasm – it gets me into trouble; especially when someone doesn’t have the context for the sarcasm or takes you seriously.
- • Be careful of exaggeration: I’ll always remember the day when someone was boasting about their PPC budgets. It just so happened that we were one of the top spenders at Yahoo and Google as well as managing one of the top AdSense sites and one of the most frequented sites on the entire web. I knew they were highly exaggerating and never really trusted what that person said afterwards. There will be big companies at the show and people who you’ve never heard of who manage massive budgets or are highly influential. Exaggeration can come and bite you – be careful.
You can even ask some of these questions on social media before the show. If you start the conversation before the show; it’s easier to keep it going or ask a follow-up question during the show.
Taking a Break
After you sit in some sessions and have some conversations; you might feel drained. That’s because introverts recharge with alone time. In Vegas, it’s not going to rain and there’s plenty of space around the conference center to go for a walk. Just go take a break.
If you want a nice coffee, the Renaissance hotel next door has a small coffee shop in it and there are some tables you can sit and have your coffee and avoid people.
If you walk around the center outside; there’s plenty of nice sidewalks to just wander a bit. There’s a lot of traffic around so if you want to tune out the world bring a pair of headsets (watching for any traffic if you do cross a street – it’s not necessary for a long walk as you can easily just stay on one side of the street) and just wander a bit. It’ll help you recharge so you can go back to the show and learn more in sessions and talk to yet more people.
Networking for Introverts
Networking makes you feel involved in the show. It gives you valuable contacts for the future. It’s a great place to share ideas and learn new concepts. While it’s scary, it doesn’t have to be impossible.
Join in social media or share your ideas before the show.
Attend the conference and pay attention in the sessions. Ask intelligent follow-up questions that start conversations.
When you need a break, just go for a short walk – there’s plenty of open space around the conference center to go recharge yourself. When you’ve done, rejoin society at the conference.
Conferences are wonderful. You can learn a lot, meet new people, and network – even if you are an introvert by just exerting a little bit of thought and research, which is something as an introvert – you’re already great at doing 🙂