9 Lessons from a Closet Introvert: Networking Events Edition

businesswoman at a networking conferenceI think it would surprise a lot of people in my life that I actually tend to be more introverted. Yes, the Myers Briggs has deemed it so. At first I was surprised, but then I realized the truth in this assessment.

What I'm saying today is that just because you're an entrepreneur or business woman, it doesn't mean you have to cram yourself into some sort of extrovert mold.

Maybe you can relate:

-It took all the courage I had to raise my hand in class growing up.
-I see a crowded cocktail reception and think, “Golly, how am I going to navigate that?!”
-Large and/or networking events take a lot out me. I legit feel like I’ve been run over by a bus for the next day or so, hoping it’s just exhaustion and not a harbinger of some nasty flu to come.
-I have a good friend from high school and college, and I always hoped I could be more extroverted and fearless like her, but was always daunted and left exhausted by the idea of it.

Last week, I had the privilege to attend the WE Festival, a networking event put on by ITP at NYU. This was a gathering of women entrepreneurs from around the country, and I met some amazing people doing incredible things. While I was there, I took lots of notes and spent some time reflecting on my experience, given my newly uncovered introvert status. And I’m sharing those notes here because in case my learning can help fuel your growth, I want it all out there!

-Figure out a way to make the event a ‘safe learning space’ for you. I walked into the event last week and froze. How was I going to talk to ANYONE, much less 300 people?! I decided to figure out ways to make the event a safe haven of sorts. What did this mean? A few things for me:

1. I got lost finding the area with another woman and we did our own networking right there while finding our way.

2. Approach other people standing alone. There are bound to be some!

3. Ask myself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” We were all there to learn and meet each other- no one is going to turn on their heels and walk away from you, Jill!

4. If you don’t know anyone else there, make an event buddy with whom you have common interests. A bunch of us did that and when we were drained at the end of Day 2, we met up and hung out.

5. Just go and talk to people. They are friendlier and more interested in what you are doing than you might think.

6. It’s an interesting opportunity to go to events and places where your area is on the periphery. Many of these women were very tech focused, but it didn’t matter. There were synergies and potential partnerships everywhere you looked. In other words step out of your normal sphere of influence and try something new.

7. Use every opportunity possible to refine your elevator speech and try different angles on it. If one feels like it landed with a dud, you can can it and try something else next time.

8. You really never ever know when the next opportunity will come from. Maintain an open frame of mind.

9. If you’re not really all that sure you understand what a person does, ask questions and be curious. Sometimes as a closet introvert, I have the tendency to be all, “Oh god, I don’t understand what they’re saying about their Java Script and coding challenges! What do I say next?!” You don’t need to understand all of the inner machinations of their product to gain an understanding of where they’re at. Non technical questions could be, “What brought you to this event?”, “What will make this a successful event for you?” or “Tell me about your background or passion that led you to begin working on X project.” If you go into the cocktail conversation with an open mind, chances are you’ll get some good questions asked of you, too. Which is where the real learning and personal growth happen.

So like I said- and I mean this wholeheartedly- let go of any preconceived notion that you need to be this rip roaring extrovert to start a business, grow a business or rock whatever career you're in now. This is a major fallacy and one I hope I can begin to debunk with my experiences. Bottom line: Go out and rock it- your way.

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