Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Jun 3, 2010

You’re Just Not That Into Me (the introvert’s guide to attending a conference)

Guest Blogger, Lisa Petrilli, C-Level Strategies & Awakenings

The faculty and staff of BWFS&SC welcome to the blogosphere Lisa Petrilli and her site, newly launched and already generating volumes of commentary and an envious amount of Twitter Traffic.  Lisa kindly gave permission to reprint the article below.  See its original form and the comments it generated here.
We are adding C-Level Strategies to our blogroll, and look forward to a shared student body.

 Mack Collier wrote an exceptional post last week called, “The Introvert’s Guide to Speaking.” As both a speaker and an introvert myself, I found the post very relatable and was touched by Mack’s raw candor in regard to his speaking fears.

There is another fear that most introverts (and many extroverts) have when attending a conference or networking event that I’d like to address; the fear that no one will want to talk to us.  You know what I’m talking about, right?

To be honest, I used to avoid networking events if I was not absolutely sure that someone I knew would be there – someone for me to “hang out with.” This was a real detriment to my career as it drastically limited my exposure to executives outside of my little “bubble,” and prevented me from making wonderful new business connections.

Here’s what I dreaded: the moment when you walk into a room and you search the faces of people who are there, looking for someone who seems interested and willing to talk with you.  And what I always got back (in reality, what I thought I was getting back) was the professional version of “I’m just not that into you…”

It played in my head as, “these execs don’t think I’m at a high enough level to be interesting,” “they are not interested in my connections,” “they don’t see any value in getting to know me…”

All of this changed for me the day I was hired by Andy Whitman to work with MENG, the Marketing Executives Networking Group.  When you’re consulting for a company with the word “networking” in its name you’d better know a thing or two about it!  Working with Andy was a tremendous blessing because he is an extraordinary networker and I was able to watch and learn from the best.

What did I learn from Andy Whitman that all introverts should know?

1.  Virtually everyone – executives, assistants, musicians, introverts, extroverts, you name it - is uncomfortable to various degrees at networking events and conferences because it forces us as humans to go outside our comfort zone.  Thus, I was not alone.

2.  Many people have a hard time being the one to extend themselves and have that same “they’re just not into me” tape playing in their head.

3.  If I extended myself – made the first effort to extend my hand, introduce myself and offer a very genuine smile, 90% of the time I was actually helping the other person out immeasurably! I was putting others at ease.

4.  When I learned to enthusiastically make that first, warm, genuine introduction of myself, what I received back was invariably a warm, genuine “it’s so nice to meet you” in response! It was like magic I had never known about…no one had actually been sending me an “I’m not into you” signal – it was all in my head!

A few weeks ago I had the great fortune of attending SOBCon 2010 – a small conference made up of some of the greatest minds in social media, many well-known social media “celebs” included.  I was admittedly quite nervous about attending but I extended myself on every occasion possible and you know what?  I discovered that many of the social media ”celebs” are actually quite shy themselves!

Instead of just assuming that “they weren’t into me” because I wasn’t a celeb, I introduced myself and received back such warm and often enthusiastic responses, that it was clear they appreciated my effort. 

So, my dear introverted friends, the next time you are invited to a networking event or you go to a conference:
1. Go - don’t back down and make an excuse not to go, you’ll miss out on the opportunity to meet amazing people who could become great collaborators or even friends. Take advantage of all the networking opportunities that the event or conference offers you.

2. Walk in the room with a genuine, warm smile.

3. Extend your hand, smile, and say “Hi, I don’t think we’ve met, I’m so and so, it’s so nice to meet you” and see what unfolds for you!

Wishing you exciting new experiences! Please share your thoughts and experiences  in the comments - I’d love to know if any of you have had similar experiences and how you’ve handled them!

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