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It often comes as a surprise to people to learn that I am an introvert. While I am perfectly comfortable presenting to a large audience on, say, what income to report in box 11 of Form W-2, I am often paralyzed with fear upon entering a large gathering where free-range mingling is expected.
According to my quick Google search, anywhere from 15% to 50% of you are also introverts. So, with the 27th Annual NASPP Conference coming up and bringing with it lots of opportunities for networking, I thought I’d share a few tips I’ve picked up over the years.
1. Groups of Three: This is a tip I learned at a recent conference for association professionals: look for groups of three. The theory is that when three people are standing together, two are having a conversation and one is feeling left out. That left-out person will be glad to have someone new to talk to. I tried this and to my surprise, it worked!
2. Look for Openings: This goes along with the above tip: look for people standing in a half circle. It’s easier to join a group that already has a space for you. When I tested the “groups of three” theory, I made sure to choose groups that were in a half circle; that way I didn’t have to work to get anyone’s attention when I made my foray into the group.
3. Tables with Openings Can Work Too: I find it easier to approach people at tables—it doesn’t matter whether they are standing at a cocktail table or sitting at a lunch table, somehow the table makes it easier. I can walk up and say, “can I join you here?” easy as pie and then strike up a conversation. I can’t explain why, but it works for me.(Pro tip: pick a seat between two people: this doubles your chance of finding someone interested in conversing with you.)
4. Have a Mission: Back before the NASPP hired a professional photographer, there was a period where I served as the unofficial photographer using my digital camera. I discovered that the camera made me fearless. Having a mission (i.e., taking pictures) made it easy for me to approach people I would never have dreamed of approaching otherwise. You may not be able to appoint yourself photographer, but you could give yourself a different mission. Perhaps something related to why you are at the Conference—e.g., maybe you want to talk to as many people as possible about how they administer their RSU program or how many people are on their stock plan administration team.
5. Open-Ended Questions: Brainstorm open-ended questions that you can use to make conversation. Here are a few ideas: What session are you most looking forward to/was your favorite? How did you end up in stock compensation? What types of awards do you grant? What are you hoping to learn at the Conference? What did you think of the keynote? (Bonus tip: go to the keynote—it will give you something to talk about.)
6. Go for Low-Hanging Fruit: Talk to people in low pressure situations, when you don’t need to work out an approach, such as when you are riding an escalator/elevator or standing in line. When I’m in these situations, I find that it’s easy to strike up a conversation with the person next to me.
7. Get the Lay of the Land: When you walk into a room, don’t be afraid to take a minute to look around. You can scout out groups of three or tables where there are openings; maybe you’ll even spot someone you know.
8. Pretend You're Good at It: One of my favorite, highly introverted authors tells a story about struggling to record her audiobook. During a break, she called a friend who gave her this advice: "pretend you're good at it." When she returned from the break, she found that suddenly she was able to get through the reading. When I am at the NASPP Conference, I feel like I've adopted a different persona, that of someone who is a social butterfly. I'm able to interact with people in ways I normally wouldn't. (Funny story, though: don't forget to turn this persona off. When you are at the airport, it's weird to turn to the person behind you on the escalator and strike up a conversation.)
Now, go forth and mingle! And if you see me standing alone scanning the room, have a heart and come say hello—I’ll have my open-ended questions at the ready!
Thanks to Andrea Best of Stock & Option Solutions for encouraging me to write this post.