Six years have passed since author Susan Cain spoke on “The Power of Introverts” during her now widely recognised TED talk. “Extroverts really crave large amounts of stimulation, whereas introverts feel at their most alive and their most switched-on and their most capable when they’re in quieter, more low-key environments,” said Cain in her talk. “So the key then to maximising our talents is for us all to put ourselves in the zone of stimulation that is right for us.” Cain’s speech has garnered more than 20 million views and is available in 46 languages on Ted.com.
The popularity of Cain’s TED talk should not come as a surprise. There are countless articles and books on the topic because, well, “by definition half of us are introverts,” quipped Tom Blower, managing director at London-based professional training and coaching firm Black Isle Group. Introverts may prefer to focus on their work rather than mingle at conferences, or hibernate rather than offering handshakes or hellos at networking events.
As a result, introverts are often perceived as less likely candidates for management posts compared with their exuberant or outspoken extroverted friends and colleagues. “Our ideas of leadership are drawn from the cultural perspective of a dominant figure,” said UK-based Stefan Thomas, networking specialist, author of Business Networking for Dummies, and a self-proclaimed introvert. At functions, he added, introverts are forced to talk about themselves, which in turn makes them squirm. But while networking can be difficult for introverts, it is so necessary in business if they want to advance their careers and be memorable.
Introversion also has advantages: Introverts are often observant and perceptive, and they don’t talk as much as others, meaning they ask questions and listen more, Thomas said. And that actually makes introverts excellent candidates for leadership and greatness.
So how do introverts leave their comfort zones, get past their fears of networking, and use their reticent ways to tout not only their businesses, but also themselves? It’s not that difficult, according to Thomas and Blower. Here is their advice:
Plan ahead. Prior to attending a networking event, make sure your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date, Thomas said. Those you meet might look up your profile and contact you via the site later. In addition, determine which kind of people you’d like to meet, and the types of events that will benefit you the most, Blower noted. Fashion a short opener to explain who you are and why you are attending the event, to reduce the chances of an initial stumble. “What’s key is that you are memorable ... that there is something unique about yourself so the other person remembers you easily,” added Blower. Finally, don’t forget your business cards, and don’t be late. Thomas aims to arrive 15 minutes early at gatherings. “If I’m late, I will be drawing attention to myself when I walk in the room and will be more flustered,” he said.
Start small and be curious. Plan to have quality conversations with two or three people at the event, and set the bar low. “I’m not looking to achieve sales or tonnes of business cards; I’m just looking to start a few conversations that I can continue after the event,” Thomas said. To take the focus off yourself, address some of the services you provide, and ask plenty of questions. Many people love to talk about themselves. Why did they attend the event? What is the nature of their business? Do they play golf? Real success comes once you have taken the time to learn about others, he noted.
Love yourself. Be comfortable with you, and play to your strengths as a good listener. “Don’t try to be this George Clooney-type where you can hold a room,” Blower said. Not everyone appreciates the big and loud personalities. “If you are a quiet and introspective person, a lot of people will warm to you for that very reason,” Thomas added.
Follow up. After the event ends, keep in contact with key people you met. “There’s no point going if you don’t follow up,” Blower noted. So send them a connection on LinkedIn, drop them an email, give them a call, send them an article they may enjoy, or remark on something they posted online. If you comment on one of their postings, they are likely to reciprocate. Added Thomas: “Understand that the networking event is just the start of the conversation.”
— Cheryl Meyer is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com.