How to Help Introverts Find Their Networking Voice

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introvertsWe all know that introverts face a number of challenges when networking at meetings and events, but how can both introverts and extroverts work together to accommodate everyone in these social environments?

We continue the conversation with Sandja Brügmann, founder and CEO of The Passion Institute, which helps to develop leaders fit to succeed in the 21st century and organizational cultures where people thrive, innovate and care. In this second part of a two-part Q&A, she shares tips and icebreakers that can bridge the gap between introverts and extroverts.

What are some tips you have for introverts to come out of their shell so to speak?

Be very committed to what’s important to yourself at that specific networking event and be able to say “no” to people that come at you. Also, centering practices can bring you back to yourself and lower your anxiety or stress response. It’s fine to take some time out for yourself and go to a corner or to the bathroom to go center yourself again.

What I find, too, if you go to an event and you’re not sure how is there or who you want to speak to, it can help to have an item on you that can serve as an icebreaker. It can be as simple as a feather in your hair or a piece of jewelry that stands out, as long as it fits your brand and your personality. If you get into that situation where you’re in the corner and no one is talking to you, pick yourself up and go get a drink where people are pouring water or ordering a drink, so you can start a conversation that way.

What are the key differences between introverts and extroverts?

It’s important to note that introverts gain energy from being alone, whereas extroverts gain energy from being around people. If an introvert end ups talking with an extrovert, you are often the one listening and nodding while the extrovert does most of the talking, but it’s important to get into a dialogue. If there’s an extrovert that takes up the whole conversation and is unaware of their actions, try to just remove yourself from the conversation because that will not be a good experience for you.

Instead, try to find someone who has the ability to both speak and listen. That way you can practice saying some of the things that are important to you and what you’re working on and what you’re passionate about. Talk about purpose and get into some of these deeper conversations, which is what introverts are very good at, rather than staying on the surface level. Bring out the commonalities so the conversation flows more easily.

What are some tips you have for planners or more extroverted attendees to help accommodate introverts?

For planners, a networking event in its nature is not very conducive for introverts. It’s very much an extrovert’s market. What planners can do is have someone at the door greeting people because, once an introvert is greeted in a friendly way, their stress response goes down.

If you’re doing network-specific events, breaking people into smaller groups will help accommodate introverts better. Also, if you have some facilitated processes where everyone has to speak in pairs or groups — because introverts don’t like to be put on the spotlight individually — that can make introverts more comfortable. Lighting also helps and can make people feel more comfortable. Even handing out a card with a positive saying on it that’s inspirational and inviting adds a personal touch, a touch of humanity will make it more conducive for all people, but certainly introverts, to open up more.

Are there specific icebreakers that you think work really well?

It’s always a matter of not pushing people to talk. If you can make it more of a game, like handing out cards that encourage attendees to pick what they value most that day. And then grouping them with other people that share that value to make it more interactive can help. It’s a little more directive, so people don’t have to think so much for themselves but are bringing themselves into play in a deeper way.

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