One of the primary differences between introverts and extroverts is where they get – and give – their energy. For introverts, working and interacting with groups of people can be draining, while for extroverts the same situation is energizing. That’s why networking, especially networking events, can be a challenge for those CIOs and IT leaders who skew more toward introversion.
Good news: You do not need to be an extrovert to be a successful IT leader. However, today's IT leaders interact with more people – from their own organizations, customers, and partners – than ever before. Networking skills prove useful not just at career-minded events, but any gathering where you'll meet new people.
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To be your best when networking and meeting people takes some preparation. However, introverted IT leaders can take a number of actions, both before and during networking opportunities, to set themselves up to excel.
1. Conserve your energy
“It’s a lot of work for introverts to be in an uncomfortable business social event,” says Margery Myers, a consultant and coach with Bates Communications who works with CIOs and other corporate leaders on executive communication. “They key is to make sure you have a lot of energy as you head into that event.”
If an IT leader is spending much of the day going from meeting to meeting, he or she will be depleted during a networking happy hour. To the extent possible, they should instead make sure they have enough time by themselves to recharge before networking. They should also take care to control other behaviors that might erode their elan, like eating too many sugar or carbs during the day, which could lead to a crash during the event. “I tell my clients to think a few days out about how they’ll manage their energy, which includes managing their people intake, their food and water intake, and their digital intake,” Myers says.
2. Be prepared
Winging it doesn’t always work, particularly not for introverts who are more comfortable when they understand exactly the situation they’re facing. Introverts can get a leg up by finding out about the event, the setting, and who’s going to attend.
Consider what topics you might discuss, collect your thoughts on the keynote speaker, or highlight which attendees it might be worthwhile to meet. “The more you know in advance, the fewer calories you’re going to burn trying to navigate the event,” Myers says. “Then you can use that energy in the room instead.”
3. Consider the buddy system
“Attending events with a friend or colleague, and utilizing the time to introduce each other to individuals that one person knows can ease some anxiety and allow for more comfortable transitions to conversations,” says Matt Eventoff, owner of Princeton Public Speaking and advisor to CIOs and IT leaders on communication and messaging strategy. “It is also much easier to talk about someone else's great attributes – something that makes most of us uncomfortable when asked to do it about ourselves.”
4. Right-size your aims
Thinking about spending three hours mixing and mingling your way throughout a room of people can be daunting. Myers suggests that introverted leaders bring the event down to “bite-sized goals.”
“Rather than feeling overwhelmed, set a goal that you’ll go up to two people you don’t know and start a conversation,” Myers says. “Create a goal that is achievable to you and appropriate to your role, rather than feeling locked into the thought that you have to work the room or you’ve failed.”
5. Seek out a sherpa
“Always look for and go to the people who are more extroverted – those that chat and smile more,” Hugh Massie, founder and president of Atlanta-based DNA Behavior International, a behavioral training, consulting, and technology provider. “They will introduce you to others, and the friendly ones will naturally lead you around the room.”
6. Ask the right questions
“Questions,” says Myers, “are an introvert’s best friend. They get other people talking.” Open-ended questions, in particular, are useful for networking. But don't feel as if you have to ask about someone’s family or where they went on their last vacation. As Susan Cain pointed out in her book “ Quiet”, that kind of small talk can be torture for introverts.
Myers suggest starting with “big talk” instead, asking questions and forging connections around business and technology challenges and experiences that introverts may be more comfortable discussing. By launching conversations around the work, the interactions can feel more like valuable connection for introverted IT leaders rather than meaningless but required chit-chat.
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