I took my first Myers Briggs Type Indicator test when I was 7 (INTJ, in case you are wondering). As someone with an extroverted job, many are surprised to learn I am in fact an introvert. As an advancement and fundraising professional, I’ve had to learn how to make my introversion an asset, and wanted to share a few tips with introverts and extroverts alike. Being an introvert doesn’t mean that I can’t network or hang out at social events, it just means I approach it differently.
Find out who is going to be in the room before you get there.
First off, this eases the social anxiety of being around people I don’t know. If I know their names and where they work, at least they aren’t complete strangers. I also look for ways they might be connected to someone I DO know, which also makes the world feel a little smaller and more familiar. Second, it allows you to start practicing conversations in your head – a key element of being an introvert. Thankfully, with all sorts of online event management systems like Evite and Facebook, it’s easy to take a look at the list of confirmed guests. If it’s a more formal event, you can look at the speakers or the topic and start thinking about what you might have to say about it.
Make contact ahead of time so you have an expected topic of conversation – and more time to practice in your head.
Years ago, an introverted friend and I came up with this approach to help her feel more comfortable at faculty events while she was in graduate school. I suggested that she stay in regular email communication with the faculty members she needed to network with at events by sending them articles or compliments/comments on things they wrote. That way, she had a natural opener at events – “Did you get my email?” Sometimes the opener is the hardest thing to master, and also having a topic established where you know you have something to add.
Recruit an extroverted friend.
I have had the pleasure of working with some charismatic and wonderful extroverts in my career, and having them as a professional date at an event really changes the whole game for me. I liken it to walking into a party with a really cute puppy dog. You don’t have to say a word and everyone remembers you as the person with the cute puppy. It’s the best of all worlds. Plus, extroverts are totally comfortable breaking into group conversations and starting up a chat with someone they don’t know at all. I’ve found that hanging out with extroverts helps me try on new styles and integrate them into my own.
Write out some talking points – in your head or in paper.
This might seem lame, but knowing what I want to say and how I want to say it is an important part of feeling comfortable in live conversation – especially professionally. I don’t often write things down anymore, but I do spend a fair amount of time rehearsing conversations. One thing I particularly hate is leaving voicemail messages, so I do write down what I’m planning to say before I call. Once it’s written, you don’t have to read it like a script – just the act of writing it down seems to help cement ideas in my mind.
Remember that quality over quantity is a valid argument.
Being an introvert doesn’t mean I don’t like people or meeting new people, it just means that I approach it differently. I prefer one on one discussions to group discussions, and tend to go deeper in conversation with fewer people at an event. Instead of having 50 1-minute conversations, I have 5 10-minute conversations. I’ve embraced this as a strength and not a weakness. If you are approaching a professional event with a group, you can also divide and conquer – select a few targets that you want to meet and make it a game to go out an meet them. Once you have, you can go home, rest, and enjoy some peace and quiet!
Encourage the other person do the talking by asking questions.
Curiosity + introversion = people will tell you anything and everything. Having a standard list of questions to ask helps fill the silence (even though introverts are perfectly good with silence) and also helps draw other introverts out. When I was a bartender, all I had to do was sit there and people would go on and on about their lives to no end. So just listen up, ask a couple of questions, and let the extroverts do the work.
Use your introversion as a reason to follow up.
Maybe you didn’t have a lot to say during the conversation. Maybe you were stuck in one of those group discussions with a bunch of extroverts and couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Maybe you are replaying the conversation over and over and wish you had said something more. Use that to your advantage, and write a follow up note that starts with, “I’ve been thinking about our discussion and….” It’s a way to get to know people better, and conversations can flow from in-person to phone to email and back again.
I hope these tips are helpful to my fellow introverts out there – so get out there and start networking!