By Jen Giang
Here’s the thing: There will be awkward moments. That daunting second of silence when neither you or the person you’re talking with knows what to say. You stand there smiling, hoping that the other person will ask a question to get things started. If you are an introvert—as I am—you will understand that it’s often awkward to meet new people. Yet, over the years, I’ve learned how to start overcoming these fears. Here are a few of my tried and tested tricks.
Embrace your awkwardness
Own your personality, but with sprinkles of kindness, respect and enthusiasm. Speaker and brand strategist Jay Danzie has said: “Your smile is your logo, your personality is your business card, and how you leave others feeling after an experience with you becomes your trademark.”
I live by this saying when I network, because I truly believe that the way you leave people feeling will ultimately dictate whether someone will want to form a relationship with you. But, at the same time, beware of who you are—you don’t want to be a cookie-cutter version of everyone else.
1) Think about your brand. Where do you work or go to school? What are you aspiring to be? What are your accomplishments? What hobbies do you have? What causes do you believe in? What keeps you up at night? What keeps you going? Thinking about these things and having the answers will help you better introduce yourself. Be prepared, but know that you can also go with the flow.
2) Find your voice. What do you want your fellow conversationalist to think about you when you finish talking to them? That you are empowered, respected, generous, sweet, professional or impressive? Of course, you would want them to think of all those traits but, most of the time, choosing just a few to put forward will help you stay consistent.
3) Pull out those extroverted traits. As an introvert, I sometimes find myself not smiling or playing with my phone. Occasionally I won’t contribute, especially if I am in a bigger group of people. Being an introvert is perfectly okay, it just means we have to try harder in these settings. Two tricks I’ve learned are to choose certain people in the crowd that interest me, and to try to hold longer conversations with just one person rather than meeting multiple people. Smiling is very important, as it makes people feel more welcome to talk to you. Initiate conversations. Yes, I know it’s hard. But initiating is an advantage because you can ask the questions.
Once you’ve formed your elevator pitch and figured out your voice, it’s time to prepare for the event!
1) Dress to impress. This can be as simple as throwing on a blouse and pants or as fancy as a full suit. Research the event beforehand. If it is a recurring event and you’re a first-timer, look for photos of earlier events on social media and dress to the level of previous participants. If in doubt, remember it’s always better to be too smart than too casual.
2) Business cards and LinkedIn profile. Giving a business card to a person can help them remember to find you again—and creates an opening for them to give you their card. I also find it very
useful to ask a person if they’re on LinkedIn. Most people are, and that allows me to quickly add them to my LinkedIn network. I can also take a look at their profile and use that as a conversation starter when I follow up. Importantly, make sure your business card and LinkedIn profile are always up to date.
3) Read the news. Again, there will be awkward moments—but if you take 10 minutes to read all the top news on the day of event, you will be armed with several topics of discussion. Before I
did this, I often talked about the weather (super-boring, I know, but it helped).
4) Ask intelligent questions. I always compile a list of questions I might ask people when I see them. And instead of asking surface-level questions, find a topic they have mentioned that interests you and ask deeper questions. The goal is to have the other person do most of the talking so that you can determine if they are a good contact to keep in your network.
5) Actively listen. As I’m not a big talker, I like to listen. This often means that I pick up small pieces of information or “hints” that others miss.
Now that you have a person’s contact information, such as their LinkedIn profile or business card, it’s time to form a relationship. Decide what you would like: mentorship, to help you find a solution to a problem, to make a contact in a related field or to initiate a sales conversation. You now need to follow-up. This is a crucial step. To get the best results, get in touch with the person within one week—after this point, your “contact” may not remember you. Be clear on what you’re after and, if appropriate, set up a coffee or lunch and start building that relationship.
Jen Giang is active networker who is fine-tuning her skills as a board member of the Vietmeniese Canadian Professional Association and a volunteer mentor for the Project Management Institute.