Introverted or extroverted, networking opportunities create internal talk tracks in all of our heads
I like to consider myself a fairly social person in the workplace. I interact with coworkers at the coffee machine. I have a work buddy to talk to about my wild and crazy weekends with (i.e., talk about my latest Netflix binge and the new pizza topping I dared to try). I enjoy the occasional team lunch outing when pizza’s involved, of course.
Heck, my Predictive Index Behavioral Assessment even says that extraversion is my second strongest motivational driver in the workplace (check out my pattern below!)
But when it comes to professional networking, a voice emerges inside my head, and it’s trying to convince me that the extraversion claims in my pattern are a rouse. I call this voice Joyless Jill. “You’re really an introvert,” Joyless Jill whispers, “a teeny, tiny hermit crab with an impenetrable shell.” The voice is soft but persuasive, and it’s telling the rest of my mind to grab my blanky, throw it over my head, and jump in a hole… a very deep hole.
The powerhouse career woman in me, aka Career Woman Jill, understands the importance of professional networking. In fact, my behavioral pattern ( pictured above) is strong in the dominance factor. Going to conferences and forging professional relationships can help me create better outcomes in my career. I’ve been given tips and tricks from seasoned networkers and have read articles from big-name publications with promising headlines like, “The Five Easy Tips to Networking,” “How to Network like a Pro,” “Networking for Dummies.”
I tried to use this collection of networking advice at WistiaFest, a video marketing conference I recently attended in Boston. I thought I’d give you a glimpse into the interesting chats Career Woman Jill and Joyless Jill have inside my head in the midst of my networking efforts.
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The dreaded handshake
This is where it all begins. The first impression. The make or break. “Don’t go with the hand crusher!” implored Joyless Jill.” I won’t. I’ll be confident, but I won’t break their hand. “But don’t give them the dead fish either. Avoid the dead fish at all costs!” warned Joyless Jill. She is so damn hard to please!
The handshake solidifies your status in the conversation, or at least that’s what those promising networking articles claim. The professional-looking man who approached me only minutes after I arrived looked to be in his 50s. He seemed clearly established, successful. He extended his hand, and I reciprocated. Perfect! Not a death grip, but still not dead fish status either; my first professional networking encounter was going smoothly. “But your hand is sweaty,” observed the joyless one. “Shush! She’s networking!” shouted Career Woman Jill. Career Woman Jills wins this one, because guess what? This guy’s hand was sweatier than mine. And indeed, sweating is a natural part of being nervous. When shaking my first professional’s hand and feeling his sweaty palms, it reminded me, hey, this person is human. People are people, and no matter their professional status, being nervous to meet new people is a natural human reaction. Remember, professional business types are just human beings at the end of the day. Career Woman Jill–1, Joyless Jill—0
To eat or not to eat
I have never in my life felt nervous about eating in front of anyone, ever. Food is my best friend. Shove a doughnut in my face and it’s gone in seconds I wear the remnants of these sweet treats all over my face with a badge of honor. But when it comes to enjoying a smorgasbord of goodies at this conference, I found my plate was empty. “Don’t eat,” warned Joyless Jill. “We do not want to deal with that is-there-something-in-my-teeth moment. We don’t want the paranoia of thinking there are flakes of chocolate croissant resting on our lips, right Jill?”
Career Woman Jill tapped me on the shoulder. “Don’t forget what mom always says! ‘You can’t network on an empty stomach!’” Food and conversation are natural allies. I needed to shift my thought process. For one thing, I was starving. For another, mom knows best! So I convinced Joyless Jill of the importance of nourishment filled my plate—chocolate croissant, fruit salad, bagel with cream cheese, muffin— and felt fortified enough to take on a day of lectures and men with sweaty hands. At our high top table, sweat man nibbled at a muffin and sipped his coffee as I started on my croissant. It was casual, effortless. Two people chatting over breakfast. Food really does make everything better. Scoreboard reads: Career woman Jill—2, Joyless Jill—0.
Be the captain of your own ship
“Sunset cruise around Boston Harbor: Fit with food, music, and good company,” read the last event on the conference agenda. “We’ll be there!” shouted an excited Career Woman Jill. But Joyless Jill was no where to be found. She had checked out. After a day of hour-long educational sessions, Joyless Jill had hit her limit. Her brain was full, her notebook jam packed, and her tummy had had enough chocolate croissants. The introvert that is Joyless Jill was not prepared for a three hours of sailing and mingling.
Career woman Jill pushed, reminding the joyless one of the importance of these extra few hours of networking. “Think of who you could meet! Imagine the opportunities that could come from it!” But this time, Joyless Jill was the victor. It was time for WisitaFest to come to an end for the two Jills. Although a boat cruise around Boston Harbor sounded fun and the prospect of pizza bites and pigs in a blanket put a big ol’ smile on my face, I was mentally exhausted. I took away what I could from the breakout sessions. I gave away almost all my business cards, and collected even more. I met people I was generally interested in getting to know more about professionally and others I probably would not be emailing back.
The extra three hours of networking could have been enjoyable. Heck, I bet Career Woman Jill and Joyless Jill might have even gotten along on this boat ride, but I got what I came for and it was time to make my professional exit. Final score: Career Woman Jill—2, Joyless Jill—1.
Becoming a networking pro doesn’t happen overnight, and I still have a ways to go. Read the advice. Skim through those networking articles. Talk to your mentors. Learn from your peers. Absorb what you can about professional networking but remember to put your own spin on it and listen to your inner voice, or in my case, voices.