You are surrounded by a large crowd of colleagues and fellow industry professionals. People swap stories while making new friends and business contacts. You tell yourself that you should join the conversations, build your network and close business deals for your company, but you can’t convince yourself to approach a stranger and start talking. Why?
According to Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, between one-third to a half of all people are introverts?individuals who prefer intimate settings over crowded social situations. Loud and highly stimulated environments are often draining for introverts. But, in a society that often recognizes extroverts as the ideal personality that others should aspire to, how do introverts get ahead?
As a human behavior scientist and author of The 2 AM Principle, I have spent years traveling the world meeting and connecting with people, and testing different approaches for building relationships. Over the years, I have created one of the most exclusive private communities, ranging from Nobel Laureates and famous musicians to award-winning actors and members of royalty. What I have learned can help even the most introverted among us improve his or her networking skills.
1. Be yourself.
This sounds cliché, but it’s true. Beating yourself up for not having a loud, extroverted personality will only hold you back. Although it is important to learn from extroverts, expecting yourself to behave like one is futile.
If you feel more comfortable in small groups, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The key is to understand your advantages. For example, as an introvert you may be able to create more long-lasting, intimate relationships. You can focus on the ones that really matter.
2. Redefine your approach.
Look for scenarios in which you can meet with people in intimate settings. Invite people to small group or one-on-one activities like a round of golf, game of tennis, a run or a cup of coffee.
It may take more time to meet people, but the relationships you have will be much deeper and more significant. But, first, you have to get people to accept your invitation.
3. Focus on remarkability.
Studies have shown that our brains are hardwired to respond highly to situations that are new. You can use novelty to create memorable experiences. For example, I have a friend who owns a small airline. When he wants to network or connect with people, he invites a small group to fly with him and his wife.
If that is out of your budget, think smaller. You can do a 6 person dinner party, an arts project or a group hike. If you can become known for your activity, your community will form around it.
4. Take baby steps.
If approaching even one person scares you, take it one step at a time. According to flow, a concept of peak human performance developed by researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, people are happiest when they are doing something that is slightly outside their comfort zone.
Begin with a safety net. For example, walk up to a stranger with your best friend in tow. Start the conversation and let your friend take over. After you have done this a few times, take the conversation further. Tell a story. If that intimidates you, practice the delivery on your friends first.
5. Take advantage of the winner effect.
The winner effect states that when you experience a win, your body gets a jolt of testosterone. The jolt boosts your confidence and puts you at an advantage. With each additional win, you flood with more testosterone, which gives you more confidence for the challenges ahead. Before you go into a large social situation, get a few small wins under your belt.
6. Tell yourself the right things.
In his book Originals, Wharton professor Adam Grant explores public speaking. When people told themselves that they were excited about speaking, their delivery was better than when they had told themselves that they were nervous. By recontextualizing your feelings, you can affect your performance.
If you are nervous in conversations, you don’t have to speak the entire time. Use well-placed insights to demonstrate your intelligence and skill rather than speaking continuously.
7. Ask for a warm introduction.
If you make a connection at an event, it is tempting to stick with them for the duration and observe. Force yourself out of your comfort zone by creating a goal. Set a number of people to meet within a certain amount of time. If you know someone there, ask to join their group. Explain that you are a little introverted and shy, and ask for a warm introduction.
8. If all else fails, outsource.
There are companies and matchmakers that will introduce you to key business people. In this case, there is approval on both sides, so the connection may be easier.
It doesn’t matter if you are an introvert or an extrovert, you can build a community full of life-long friends, influencers and mentors. Put yourself out there and test out these tips. Eventually, you’ll understand what works best for you and become more comfortable meeting new people and striking up conversations.