by Gary Perman
"Hello, I'm Gary Perman. I'm a headhunter; an industry insider in the field of Technology. Transportation and Electronic related companies hire me to find their next executive, manager, salesman or engineer."
November and December are times filled with holiday joys, magic, gift giving, family, counting our blessings, good times…..AND STRESS. We are expected to attend holiday “functions” such as company parties, trade association dinners, or worse—our spouses events where we know absolutely NO ONE. For those of us who are not Type A personalities, this time of year can be grueling – the social pressures to interact with people when we’d rather be innovating, tinkering in our basements or getting “away” from work for a little R&R.
Personally I am much more comfortable behind a phone and a computer than meeting new people face-to-face. Perhaps you are more comfortable innovating new products and solving problems? Yet face-to-face interaction is essential today and the holiday time provides a great opportunity to do this plus save your relationship with your significant other.
Most engineering types I know share a common dislike for social interaction. Really though, it is not so much "dislike" as it is fear. Remember high school? Getting up the nerve to ask someone to a dance? Or standing in line during P.E. waiting to see who picks you for their team? That is the same kind of fear that many of us carry with us as we approach a social event. Well this isn't high school; it is real life and your career (not to mention your relationship with a significant other) depends on social interaction.
I've read the networking books, attended workshops, and asked a lot of people who are good at social interaction to share their secrets. I have collected traits and practices that have made me better at social interaction. I still face those initial jitters during the first moments at the registration table, but now they dissipate with the first handshake. Not all the way, but dissipate a great deal. I am here to tell you that you don't have to be a master at social situations or have a "Type A" personality to succeed. All it takes is a little planning and some strategy, and after all, isn't that what engineering types do best anyway?
Tip #1 Have A Plan
When I attend an event, I typically plan to meet one to three people whom I have picked out in advance. If they are not there or not available, I have a backup plan. I pick a number of new people I want to meet, usually five to ten. My goal is to ask them two questions, and swap cards with them. Once I have reached my goal, I am off the hook. I can go home, see a movie, or catch the end of the game at the bar. I have set a goal and reached it. Social interaction events are not a prison sentence if you don't make them one.
Kathy Condon, author of, "It Doesn't Hurt to Ask," has some great social interaction and advice on the subject. She is a consummate networker and lives by what she teaches. One of the best tips I ever learned was from her many years ago: When you first enter a room, step to the side and assess the room and the people in it. Look for the person who is standing alone. That is target number one. Most likely, that person would love to talk with someone. Personally I have met some of my best contacts that way; people who have turned out to be executives and engineering leaders. Some of them are just not very good at schmoozing, but get them one-on-one and they will talk your ears off!
Tip #2 It’s Not All About You
Keith Ferrazzi made this important point in his book, "Never Eat Alone." When it comes to social interaction, it's not about you. When you spend time meeting people, try and see if there is a way that you can be of help to them. Putting this priority first in your mind makes social interaction easier. Why? You might not be a great networker, but you are a great problem solver. If you can help someone else with an issue, solve a problem, generate an idea, or make a contact, you are working in the sweet spot of your skill set. Not only will you help someone else, but along the way good things will happen to you, too.
Tip # 3 Ask Good Questions
Get to know people by asking good questions. Boring questions get boring answers. "What do you do?," "Tell me about your company," and "How long have you been with ... ?" are all examples of typical openers that get typical results. They are boring and the answer usually involves the other person looking over your shoulder in hopes of finding a more interesting person to talk to. Instead, try these questions (it is okay to write them down and carry them in your pocket):
[ ] "What business problem does your company solve?" Follow up with, "How are you doing that?"
[ ] "What has been the biggest win for you (or your company) in the last six months?" Follow up with, "What do you think it will be in the next six months?"
[ ] "What is the most interesting initiative you have planned at your company this year?" Follow up with, "How will that change your company?"
[ ] "Do you know anyone who might be able to help me…?" Ask for names of people who might be able to help you find the person you are looking for, or solve a problem you are dealing with.
"My favorite approach," says Kathy Condon, is to, "walk up to someone with your hand extended and smile and say, 'So tell me what great thing happened to you recently?' The key here is to really listen to the answer - then you'll be given the information you can use to ask the next question. People love to talk about themselves -- get to know the person standing before you on a personal level. Then set up a coffee date and you can talk about your work at that meeting. People hire people, collaborate with people, refer people that they know and like." You want to ask questions that initiate a conversation out of the norm, and these questions will do that. Once they have answered your questions, there is just one more to ask; "Is there some way I can help you?"
I have a good friend who always ends every conversation with, "What can I do for you?" He is seriously asking if I might need a referral, a new contact, or a solution to a new problem. At first my response was, "Oh nothing. I'm fine," until I wised up. Since his business takes him into contact with many companies, I started asking questions like, "Well, yes. Do you know anyone who works at XYZ company?" When I ask, I often receive a positive reply, something I appreciate and remember him for.
Tip # .5 It's The Little Things
It is so true in social interaction, business, and in life: it is the little things that people remember. After I network with someone I jot down a note on the back of their contact card. It might be something special about them, how I might help them, or what I thought of them. I use that information when I write them a follow-up email the next day. Want to make an even bigger, more positive impression? Send them a handwritten note the next day. It's the little things that make a great impression.
Maybe they gave you a great idea or helped solve an engineering problem you were stuck on. Perhaps they provided a referral to a potential client. Thanking them goes a long way towards creating a long lasting relationship. I often meet people at social interaction events who are unemployed. If I can't help them professionally, I can offer to send them a copy of, "Doug's List," an extensive list of social interaction events, groups, and job boards in the metro area. Though it costs me only a few seconds of my time, it might mean a lot to them. Those are the kind of "little things" that people will remember about you.
Extra Holiday Bonus Tip
Be mindful of the amount of alcohol you consume. Many careers have been damaged or even destroyed because a person drank too much and became obnoxious, flirtatious or downright obscene. Holiday Social events are NOT the place to “let down your hair” and bash the boss, demonstrate a new dance pole technique or imitate a drunken sailor. Have a good time, have fun, just not too much fun.
A Final Thought; Kathy Condon says, "Social media networking (Facebook, Linked-In) has to be a part of your personal and professional marketing wheel, but face-to-face social interaction will never be replaced.”
For some people social interaction comes naturally, and I envy them. For others like me, we have to work at it. Following the plan outlined above takes almost all of the stress out of social interaction, and I've even learned to enjoy it! I hope to see you at a social interaction event soon.
Gary Perman is a certified recruiting professional and owns PermanTech, a national search firm which specializes in recruiting technology executives, managers salespeople and engineers. He is also the former Chair for the IEEE Oregon Technology Management Community and the IEEE Oregon Section. He can be reached at email@example.com www.permantech.com
Posted by PermanTech at 1:50 PM
“Between one-third and one-half of the people in the world are introverts.
Keep in mind being introverted doesn’t necessarily mean you’re shy (although you certainly may be.) Shyness is a lack of comfort in social settings and a fear of social judgment.
Introversion has more to do with how you respond to stimulation, where you draw your energy, and how you recharge that energy. Extroverts crave stimulation; introverts feel most alive and capable in quieter, low-key environments.
Neither is good or bad; they’re just different. The key is to recognize the difference so you can put yourself in what Susan Cain, author of calls your “zone of stimulation.” If you’re an introvert, your zone of stimulation tends to be a quiet, private place.
Back to the “quiet and privacy” thing.
Unfortunately, quiet and privacy tend to be in short supply during the high-energy, action-packed social swirl of a professional conference.
So how do you not just survive but maximize your conference experience if you’re an introvert? The key is to do a little planning (something introverts naturally do well), take the right approach, and most importantly play to your strengths as an introvert:
Conferences are typically packed with action: Sessions, seminars, meetings, breakouts, meetups… lots of “on” time that creates a serious energy drain for an introvert.
Extroverts typically draw energy from others, while introverts typically recharge their own mental and emotional batteries. So schedule some down time into your day to help you recharge. (Susan calls those periods “restorative niches.”)
Plan to take a quiet walk, or retreat to your room for thirty minutes, or to read materials that help you prepare for a later session.
Whatever you do, just find a way that works for you to disconnect from other humans and let yourself recharge. That way you’ll stay fresh. And if you’re worried you’ll miss something…
This is going to sound a little strange, but it's actually possible to recharge
Here's how I do it:
Pick a keynote session where you know the audience will be relatively large. (Since your goal is to disconnect from humans, you'll find that a larger audience creates a less intimate setting — perfect in which to withdraw and be alone).
Come into the session just a minute or so before it's scheduled to start. This minimizes the chances you'll have to engage in conversation (people are much less likely to talk to you once a speaker is on stage).
Find a quiet area (if it's not a packed room). Don't sit too close to the front (because that creates a certain intimacy with the speaker — and you're looking to be a bit more removed). I tend to prefer the back row — but this often back-fires based on the size of the room. Frustratingly, sometimes people in the back row insist on trying to have a conversation . I hate that.
Once you're comfortably seated — pull out the laptop. In a large keynote, that's not rude — in fact, these days, it's often expected and encouraged. Tweet comments and quotes from the session. This has a dual advantage: First, it gives you a chance to be heads-down into the talk — and much less likely that anyone will approach you. Second, and more importantly, by tweeting during the session, you'll find you make some connections to people (that are also tweeting). In every keynote, there are usually a handful of people that are tweeting, and you'll find yourself giving a virtual nod and hat-tip to a few of them. When I live-tweet sessions, I almost always feel this connection to one or two people — who I then recognize at some other time during the conference. Makes it much easier to just say hello.
Introverts tend to work well alone and in small, familiar groups. If that’s you, it may be against your nature to actively create new connections – even if those connections could be incredibly beneficial.
So put your planning skills to work. Determine the people you want to meet and connect ahead of time online. Send a quick note saying you look forward to seeing that person at the conference. That way you get plenty of time to craft your “message” and make it perfect… and later you can simply walk up and say, “Hi, I’m Dharmesh – it’s really great to meet you in person!”
Another approach: Write a blog post that identifies a list of people you'd love to connect with at the conference. As an example, see my post “”. This has several advantages: First, without fear, it helps you identify you'd love to meet — and why. Second, you might find that some of those people actually come across your blog post and reach out to you (Internet FTW!). Third, though you may not make a connection — you may have friends/readers that know these people and volunteer to make an introduction.
The power of this inbound networking approach is that you don't have to interrupt anyone. Connections happen organically. And, in the unlikely event that you don't connect with any of the people on your list — what was the harm?
Everyone needs great connections. Create a plan that ensures you can meet the people you most want or need to meet.
You want to meet someone you didn’t know ahead of time you wanted to meet, but walking up alone and “cold-meeting” a stranger is tough.
Standing beside a friend while she introduces you to someone new is much easier, because it allows her take care of the preliminaries: “Ann, I’d like you to meet my friend Dharmesh. He’s the CTO of a marketing software company in Boston.”
Everyone you already know knows at least one person you want or need to know. The best connections are often made through colleagues and mutual acquaintances. Ask for “referrals” from people you respect and provide them for people you respect – and go out of your way to provide them for friends and colleagues who could use the hand.
We all tend to gravitate towards the people and information that validates our own perspectives and points of view. It’s more comfortable – and potentially less contentious or confrontational – to mingle with people who share our beliefs and outlooks.
So if you attend a conference with multiple speakers and a menu of sessions, for every two sessions you choose that sound interesting, pick one session that you wouldn’t normally attend. Purposely step outside your comfort zone. Commit ahead of time to acting on at least one approach or strategy that you learn; that way you’ll listen constructively instead of critically.
Then talk to someone on the way out. Say, “You know, I walked in here thinking I wouldn’t get anything out of (whatever topic)… but I was surprised by…” That’s all you need to say to start a great conversation, because people love talking to people who have seen their particular light.
Many people return from a conference with a bag full of schwag and a notebook full of scribbled ideas, thought-starters, and takeaways. A couple days later the bag is in a closet, the notebook is in a drawer… and it’s back to business as usual.
That’s especially true for the introvert who comes home drained and exhausted; by the time you recharge your batteries, your great ideas and new perspectives may have been lost.
This is one of the ways your need for quiet time can be a real advantage. Use your quiet time to think about and plan how you will maximize your return on the people you’ve met, the ideas you’ve embraced, and the knowledge you’ve gained.
A conference can be a great experience, but it shouldn’t just be an experience – it should, in ways large and small, be life changing. Use your quiet time to make concrete plans for how you will actually change your life.
I'd suggest blocking out a half day on your schedule the conference. Devote it to “absorbing” some of your thoughts and learnings and coming up with a way to apply them. Yes, yes, I know — you already spent 3 days away from the office, and there are a hundred emails waiting for you. But, that 4 hours will be some of the highest leverage time you ever spend. And, as it turns out, those emails will be waiting for you. In short, just block out the time just pretend the conference is longer than it is.
Speaking of blocking out time, for introverts, somewhat longer conferences (3–4 days) are usually easier than shorter conferences. The reason is that with a longer conference, you have time to “settle in”, know your environment — and start getting to know some people and faces. With a 1 or 2 day conference, by the time any of that happens, you're heading back out again.
Maybe you’re leading a seminar. Maybe there’s a social gathering with key customers and you’ll need to be especially “on.” Maybe there’s a user group session where you need to interact and totally engage.
Plan ahead. Schedule a recharge period immediately before. Go to a session where you know you’ll only have to listen. Have a quiet lunch instead of a group meal. Every session, every event, every meeting is important… but some are more important than others. Make sure you have the mental and social energy you need when you need it most.
Most introverts are great listeners, especially in one-on-one settings. Use that skill to your advantage. Listen. Ask insightful questions. Ask a person how they did what they did. Or why. Or what they learned from doing it, or liked about doing it. Asking real questions – and paying attention to the answers – is one of the greatest compliments you can give.
And it’s one of the best ways to make real connections – and real friends."
Posted by PermanTech at 8:05 PM