Felicity Cator, Head of EventLAB, breaks down how introverts can make the most out of networking situations.
Networking – it can feel like an occupational hazard for #eventprofs.
Some of us love it, some of us hate it. But there’s no doubt it’s an essential part of professional life. And as professionals involved in bringing people together, we should be able to do it well. But we all need a little help sometimes if we’re to connect with “the right people” – particularly if we feel we’re about to walk into a room of complete strangers.
Have you ever noticed how some people seem able to light up a room from the moment they walk in, and thought they must be way more extroverted than you? Well, you’re not the only one – many people believe extroverts are the ones who have the easiest time networking and are more comfortable in groups, and comfortable talking with people they’ve just met.
Extroversion refers to how a person tends to direct their energy, externally or internally, and how people are likely to respond to external stimuli. Researchers from ghSmart, a Chicago-based consulting firm, spent ten years analysing the personalities of 2,000 CEOs and found perhaps the surprising conclusion that actually those who were the most successful were introverts, from Abraham Lincoln to Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.
How extroverted or introverted we are can have a huge impact on our day-to-day life, including the level with which we engage with peers at events. Networking opportunities at events are in high demand, as they are an excellent opportunity to make new contacts and genuine connections. This is also a key objective of our EventLAB event, welcoming over 1,000 event professionals.
Whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, or a bit of both, we have introduced new features at EventLAB 2019 to make networking a joy, from our Buyer Intent Programme, which connects attendees with the ideal venues and suppliers, to the Brella Networking Hub, which uses sophisticated matchmaking technology to connect people who already have something in common – they just don’t know it yet.
There’s no ‘better’ level of extroversion / introversion as far as we’re concerned, but if you’ve ever struggled with speaking up and just being comfortable to engage with new people at events, here are our tips to help you success and make the most of networking scenarios:
Many of us learn about networking in our 20s. That’s when we start going to networking events, learning the art of ‘small talk’, exchanging business cards and following up with generic emails. When we realise that nothing comes from this, we begin to strongly dislike the process and everything that networking has to offer. This is because events offering networking alone tend to attract the wrong crowd, such as people solely looking for jobs, a new business opportunity, or to market and sell their products. They’re not interested in building relationships.
If you begin attending events that offer more than networking, such as conferences, tradeshows, leadership programmes, educational events or events organised by your gym, then the chances of meeting people with whom you have things in common and who are interested in building genuine connections, are much higher. This will give you more topics to talk about with confidence, and help you better understand your network and where you fit in the space.
Make it easy for people to approach you
Most introverts feel intimidated to approach a new person and start a conversation. Depending on the formality of an event, you may be able to find creative ways in standing out at events and sparking people’s curiosity. How about rocking up in a t-shirt flaunting your company’s inspirational slogan? However, if you’re not comfortable ‘visually’ sticking out in a crowd, just remember this ice-breaker question that will open the floor for the other person to talk about themselves and will spark an organic conversation: “What brings you here?”.
Get people talking
This leads us to our third and best tip to tackle networking phobias. Questions like “What do you hope to get out of this?” or “What cool stuff are you working on right now?” will get people to lead the discussion and talk about what they want. This technique will also reveal valuable insights about the other person and help you build a great relationship with them in the future. Many of us are tempted to enter a conversation with “what can I get from this interaction”, especially when engaging with powerful people like influencers or industry experts, but having a more strategic, selfless approach to networking is often the way forward.
Networking is all about supporting each other. When you are helpful, people are more likely to help you in return. If you find yourself at a conference sitting next to a person with whom you don’t seem to have much in common, think about who else in your network may be more suited to provide them with a solution, and therefore worth connecting them with. This approach will help you to build your own interconnected world. Your networking ‘puzzle’ will grow so much larger over time than if you were to only look at ‘pieces’ connecting in your immediate environment.
In more recent years, with the help of data, this process has been streamlined. More event organisers are aware of the profiles of delegates attending their events, enabling them to tailor the event’s networking offering and connect people with whom they are most likely to do business.
The Buyer Intent Programme at EventLAB 2019 will see EventLAB experts hold bespoke consultations with venue bookers ahead of time to scope out their event planning needs. Delegates will then be mutually matched for business meetings on the event floor with exhibitors who can deliver on those requirements. The programme will also benefit exhibitors as they will meet with buyers interested in their specific offerings. This delivers a more targeted approach to business for our customers and in doing so, maximises their ROI of attending.
I really hope this article will create a few more networking lovers. When it’s done properly, networking can be a fun and an extremely effective way of generating new business leads, enhancing career prospects, gaining insightful information and creating new opportunities. Once you’ve read this, I hope you’ll see there’s no excuses – everyone can do networking well.
Event LAB 2019 is taking place from 14-15 October at Business Design Centre, London.