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Let’s be honest, networking can be an awkward experience for almost anyone, but if you’re the type of person that identifies as an introvert, then you probably understand that struggle better than anyone. Just the thought of meeting new people at a networking event can be enough to trigger knots in your stomach. I can relate to that feeling of dread because I too am an introvert and have had to build a complete mental plan when I attend large networking events and tradeshows.
However, there are so many benefits from networking and attending conferences that it is well worth the awkwardness. Networking events can help you advance relationships in hours that may take years online to develop. When I have forced myself to attend events, I was able to forge new strategic partnerships and even create lifelong friendships.
Creating a plan of action before you attend the conference is key to a successful networking experience. Here are my top five tips I use each time I attend a conference:
1. Create a specific goal for the number of people you want to meet at the event
If the event is for two days, don’t be overzealous and expect to meet 50 people. As introverts, we much prefer having fewer interactions that are deep and meaningful. I usually set an intention to meet three to five amazing people each day that I think will become long-term connections. If I only connect with two that day, but they were meaningful conversations, I don’t beat myself up with a missed opportunity. On the contrary, I reward myself for having the courage to have conversations with two strangers.
2. Break the ice before you attend
Once you set a specific goal to meet others at the conference, do some initial research online and send each person an introduction via email or message before you meet them in person. Generally, I will review any information on the conference’s website, including specific booth numbers.
In addition, I research the attendees’ profiles on LinkedIn so I can understand their backgrounds and interests. To break the ice, I always create a personalized video and forward it to their email or through LinkedIn messaging.
Here is an example of my video script “Hey Lisa, I am eager to connect with you at the National Cybersecurity Conference next week. After viewing your LinkedIn profile, I am even more impressed at your commitment to healthcare security. I would love a 15-minute chat at your booth #225 to learn more about your initiatives for 2023 and share our current cybersecurity strategy in the healthcare space. Do we need to schedule a time, or can I just stop by and introduce myself?” In most cases, cold calls, emails and messages receive very few responses. However, the video messages I send have a 70% success rate because of the personalized approach and the immediacy of the upcoming conference.
3. Come prepared with three key points to share in the conversations
When meeting people at networking events, make sure you come prepared with ideas for what you want to share. At times, you may only have five minutes, so you have to treat it as if was an elevator pitch. Consider the three critical points you would love for them to remember. One of those points should be a story or impactful statement that will leave them wanting to learn more about you and your company. Here is an example of a three-point approach. “Lisa, thank you for taking a few moments today at the cybersecurity conference. Two years ago, our team cracked the code on eliminating 98% of ransomware threats within 8 seconds of detection. We would love to have you test out our software and see if it can be an addition to your security process. How is your team currently navigating ransomware threats with your prospective customers? This can help set the stage for a meaningful dialogue and get the conversation off to a strong start.
4. The person that talks the most loses the deal
The adage that most people prefer to talk about themselves or their interests is true. Therefore, I usually focus on 70% of the conversation being led by them. As they are talking, I am taking mental notes on anything that is interesting or relevant and can be used in responding with purpose. In fact, I rarely prepare a full conversation agenda because the agenda is improvised during the conversation. In this way, it allows the discussion to be authentic and spontaneous as opposed to rehearsed with canned responses. This can help you stay focused and engaged with the actual topics being discussed as opposed to the topics you assumed would be discussed.
5. Always find your anchor
One of my first goals at any conference is to find my anchor. An anchor is someone that you can converse with throughout the conference and they will help support introductions or make suggestions on specific conference workshops. I rarely know the anchor prior to the event. However, I always know when I have met my anchor because they are easy to connect with and able to open doors to situations that may be uncomfortable for an introvert. Finding my anchor is essential, or else I may feel so uncomfortable and I will either hide in a corner or go back to my hotel room. Honestly, I have done both many times at conferences.
Networking is well worth it, and it can help you open many doors in your business. For introverts connecting and networking in large crowds may always feel a bit awkward. However, with some key tips, you will find that networking can be less stressful and more fun. Good luck!