A: To never miss a call.
Q: Why do introverts have voicemail?
A: To never answer the phone.*
Which response resonates with you?
Whether you consider yourself an introvert, an extrovert, or somewhere in between, one thing is for sure: To be of service, develop others, achieve our goals, and fulfill our purpose, we need to be in connection with people. Even my academic researcher client - whom you might think spends her days in scientific solitude - finds the majority of her workday involving others.
And if you have a message to get out into the world, you do a disservice to us all by keeping it - or yourself - hidden.
That being said, the idea of networking makes many people cringe. We often picture a room filled with people we don't know, everyone seemingly paired up and in gripping conversation, business cards flying, while we stand off to the side and secretly plan our escape.
I vividly remember attending my first conference as a working woman in the "real world." I focused on taking good notes, acting professional (read: grown up), and sneaking up to my hotel room during breaks in order to replenish my energy. I went home with great notes but little else: no sense of camaraderie with my fellow attendees, no new relationships to continue to build.
Since then, I've learned to balance my desire for connection with my need for rejuvenating time alone, and I've coached many clients - both introverts and extroverts alike - to make the infamous cocktail party environment meaningful and enjoyable. Here are a few tips you might find helpful:
Remember your WHY.
Part of my purpose is to serve others by inspiring positive action. If I think of networking in terms of what I might get, I'll feel awkward and inauthentic every time. But if I focus on being of service and fulfilling my purpose, I am much more gracious and open. What's your why? Connect with that and your networking experience will transform.
Adopt the role of host.
Ironic though it may seem, public speakers are often introverts; they feel fine if they have a role to fulfill (even speaking in front of thousands of people) but not as fine when left on their own. Even if it's not technically your event, imagine your job is to make others feel welcome and comfortable. Serving as pretend host gives you a role that benefits you as well as other guests.
Transform your vocabulary.
This may sound simplistic, but try replacing the word "networking" with a verb that feels more authentic: connecting, helping, building relationships, making friends, serving, learning. Feel free to adopt my view of networking as a way to fulfill your purpose.
Change your focus.
Let your guiding thought throughout your interaction be, "How might I help this person?" Maybe you can provide a resource, make an introduction, or simply be a good listener - a rare but valuable quality.
Show up. Fully.
"I'm always glad I went," a coaching client recently shared of functions, "it's getting myself to go that's difficult." Creating a mantra like "I joyfully show up," or remembering that honoring your commitments is a sign of integrity, can help. Don't overthink, just show up.
In her excellent book "Quiet", author Susan Cain discusses how many introverts have adapted to our noisy world by learning how to do extroverted things. Doing that, or what some might call "acting as if," doesn't mean being inauthentic; it's perhaps moving beyond your comfort zone to experience as rich a life as possible.
And as we've all probably learned by now, our greatest growth typically occurs beyond our comfort zone!
First, make sure the events you say yes to support your vision and purpose.
Then, view your next event as an experiment. Choose one of these ideas, or another that comes to mind for you, and notice the difference it makes in your interactions, feelings toward the overall event, and sense of purpose!
* From Networking for People Who Hate Networking by Devora Zack (Berrett-Koehler, 2010).