embarrassed-girlI feel the warm hot flush rise from my neck, to my ears and finally blasting my  face scarlet.   A circle of eyes focus on me as I try to articulate what it is I write about and why.  I am pushing my introverted self. I’m networking after a speaking event at the Woman’s Club in Minneapolis. Dear God, networking. Extemporaneous talking to people I don’t know about a subject I’m only marginally inspired by. Realizing I am in the position of observed rather than observer, my words catch and my voice weakens.  I  recover, sort of.  I hear the rush of blood in my ears. I wonder if I am making any sense at all.

I knew this part of the evening would bring dis-ease.  I’ve never been comfortable with self-promotion and gregariousness in general. How much can I rely on my friend to hold up the conversations? If I could just find one or two kind souls to talk to me until it’s OK to leave. My friend gently but insistently puts me in the limelight.  He is not afraid to tout my writing, why am I? Will this ever get easier?

My mind churns sluggishly as I absorb the names, words and key information about individuals I encounter. I meet them one or two at a time thankfully and the name tags name taghelp.  As I meet someone new and my brain processes their name and game, they ask me to tell my story or they utter the inevitable, What do you do? 

Me?, I get flustered at functions with strategic mingling.

Shit, everyone is trading business cards like observations about the weather.  They seem so adept and natural at this game. I am so not.  I dig out cards one by one and have to explain the mediator title on my card.  I have the qualifications to be a mediator but have never actually practiced.  Intuitively, I know mediation is not my calling but explaining this to strangers feels flakey. Note to self: get new cards.

Introvert Winning! How We Work the Room

There are beautiful listeners in the crowd.  The listen with their ears and eyes. I gravitate toward them.  I want to be them.  Listening is so easy and natural for me.  Speaking succinctly and cohesively in large chunks is difficult. It helps if I share a story  — a short one about something meaningful, preferably one with an eye twinkling finish.

It’s also easy for me to ask questions.  I love to ask questions.  I always want to know people on a deeper level, so curiosity nudges me to inquire about someone’s favorite moment or how they felt when such and such happened. I then employ my freakin’ amazing head -nodding, eye-contact maintaining, word absorbing, skills as they answer. The questions usually generate a nice flow of back and forth banter that satisfies my need for connection as well as the other person’s desire to talk about themselves and be deeply heard. Win-win.

I am so grateful for those who draw me out by asking me questions or who find me a kindred spirit because small talk anesthetizes their brains too.

I like to attend networking events with someone who is a conversation initiator and who won’t let me become part of the woodwork. Tonight my friend introduces me to those he knows and asks me easy questions in front of them.  He points out my applicable experience or strength when it fits in the dialogue. He’s equal parts introvert and extrovert so understands my tendencies but also has the chutzpah to lead conversations. Every introvert should have such a friend at a party/event. Rent-an-ambivert.;)

Introvert Dreaming

I made it through the evening without retreating to the ladies room once. Sometimes that closed bathroom stall is a necessary breather and momentary happy place. Tonight, I gently re-entered the arena of professional connecting and survived.  I believe with practice my comfort level will grow.  Maybe I’ll host a networking event at my house, give a speech and ask people to subscribe to my blog.  Bahahaha!  Ok… it could happen.

How are you at professional mingling? Do you have a strength? A weakness? Would you rather network or have your nose-hairs plucked?