Tips to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone and Into Conversations
By: David Radosh
In my career as a recruiter — which involves talking, and a lot of it — I have connected with and spoken to thousands of people. Yet, I consider myself an introvert. For many, this may sound like an odd combination. After all, introverts are shy and don’t do well in social situations, right? So how do I pull off a job where social interaction and networking plays a big role? I’ll tell you my story, albeit, in brief. But first, let me clear up a little confusion regarding what makes an introvert.
What is an Introvert?
Contrary to popular notion, being an introvert is not the same as being shy. It simply means that you get your energy from spending time alone and need to recharge after being around people for long periods of time. Extroverts, on the other hand, are energized by interacting with people. Because of this difference, extroverts are commonly seen as “social butterflies” while introverts are labeled as “shy” or “timid”.
In my case, I never really had to push myself out of my comfort zone and face my fears of social interaction, work-wise, until I joined The Doyle Group. Before this, I spent two years recruiting for Nationwide via the phone. Never in these two years did I go on a face-to-face meeting with a candidate or client (not even a Skype interview).
At The Doyle Group, we have a totally different approach — we support local clients, and 95% of our candidates are local. We do our very best to meet as many people on both sides. Naturally, I was tasked with attending networking events to connect with the local IT community. As an introverted person, this has been a big cultural change for me.
At first, I thought I would go to these events, put my game face on and meet as many people as I could. But I found the exercise a little more challenging than I expected. After all, networking can be stressful, even for extroverts. Being thrown into a room full of strangers, I immediately became a wall flower. On a few occasions when I attended these events with a close friend, I watched him gracefully weave himself in and out of conversations, meeting pretty much everyone. On the first event that I went on my own, I struggled to even introduce myself to a small group of people. I’ve learned through those experiences and found ways to handle these situations.
6 Tips to Make Networking Events Easier for Introverts
Good news is, I have found a few tips and tricks over the years that can help alleviate some of the awkwardness of meeting people at networking events. Here are some of them.
It’s the fear of doing something that gets to us than the actual ‘doing’ part. The same goes for networking. This is why it’s important to prepare yourself to get over your fear. A good place to start is by attending events with small groups as opposed to those with large, loud crowds. Not only is a small event less intimidating, it also throws open opportunities to brush up your communication skills.
Don’t stress too much on how to introduce yourself but at the same time, don’t go without a plan. Very often, when you meet someone new at an event, they’ll end up asking you similar types on questions — mostly along the lines of who you are and what you do. Make sure you’re prepared with a succinct description that answers these questions.
As much as you may hate small talk, it often acts as a window for deeper and more meaningful conversations. So have some light conversation starters ready at hand. It could be about the weather, the food being served, the topic that’s being covered at the event and so on. From there on, it could glide on smoothly if you can get the other person to tell his/her story by asking the right questions. Introverts often put a lot of pressure on themselves to talk, but as natural listeners, you can be at an advantage to learn more about people around you — which is basically why you’re there — and also show you’re interested in what others have to say.
Set expectations with yourself
Unless you’re a naturally outgoing person the event will be fairly intimidating. Therefore, it pays to set a goal. In my initial days, I made it a point to meet one new person. That’s right, one person per event. Do your best to introduce yourself to this one person at the event — using the tips I shared in my previous point. Trust me, it makes a huge difference to have an attainable goal and meet it. The feeling that you’ve conquered your first networking event can be a big confidence booster.
Try to find recurring networking events
Meetups that are held at a regular interval give you a chance to get accustomed to a new environment. Plus, seeing familiar faces makes these events way less intimidating. And, if you attend an event that’s within your skill set, great — you already have common topics to discuss.
Try to stay for the entire event
The best thing about networking events is that everyone’s there to meet new people, and that includes you. Don’t make an early dart to leave the event because the possibilities of making a fruitful connection often roll right till the end.
Don’t leave right after striking one or two conversations, thinking staying till the end won’t make any difference. It will. You’d let go of a golden opportunity of meeting more people via people you’ve already had a talk with. Remember, it’s okay to ask them to introduce you to their friends/colleagues. It’s almost like letting other people do the sweat job for you because let’s face it — introducing yourself is usually the hardest part.
Practice makes it perfect
There is no substitute for experience. It will only take a little practice before you find yourself more willing to introduce yourself to people at events. You still might be nervous but it will be a much smaller hurdle to overcome. With time and practice, you can handle networking events like a pro.
Recharge after the event
Because social gatherings and interactions can be draining for introverts, it’s important that you take time to recharge if you feel you’re sapped out of energy. I find that maintaining a balance between between social and alone time enables me to perform my best when it comes to meeting and interacting with people. Introverts process the world around them by turning inward and thinking quietly and it’s essential to give yourself that time to ace anything you’re tasked with.
Networking isn’t always the most comfortable thing to do and building a network isn’t always easy. One great way to build your network with industry peers and peers, in general, are networking events. Hopefully, with these tips you’ll be a few steps closer to meeting new people at your next event with more confidence.