Do you cringe at the thought of an evening spent schmoozing and smiling amongst a crowd of strangers? Would you rather be home in your pyjamas with your loved ones and Netflix?
Not all of us are hardwired for traditional networking; for some, it is a skill we must learn, a necessary evil.
But not all introverts are wallflowers, either; it's surprising just how many of Ontario’s successful lawyers have had to work to learn the art of schmoozing.
If you fall into this category, don’t despair; arm yourself with this cheat sheet and you will conquer your next social event.
Meals over receptions
If large crowds make you nervous, tabled luncheons and dinners provide quiet, close contact with a smaller group of people and the opportunity for more meaningful conversation. The OBA hosts numerous breakfast, lunch and dinner programs, where you can connect with peers yet also focus on the speakers, which takes the pressure off of socializing.
Tag-teaming the event with an extroverted colleague will bring introductions and ready-made conversation. But be sure to discuss your goals with your colleague ahead of time, or the tag-team can quickly become a tag-along.
There’s nothing wrong with preparing yourself. This is work, and like any project, you’ll want to research and prepare. Come up with 5-10 general questions to ask other people, and prepare a few answers of your own. Do a little reconnaissance and use social media to learn about those who are expected to attend.
Put the phone (and the potato chip) down
An introvert’s favourite crutch is a phone or tablet. Put it on airplane mode and tuck it away in your purse or jacket; this eases the temptation to peek, yet keeps it close for exchanging information with others. And put down the food; you’re already feeling super self-conscious, so eating while trying to speak to people just isn’t a good idea. Pick up a glass to keep one hand occupied and keep the other free for handshakes.
Events that are based on a specific topic, such as an OBA Section program, serve the introvert well. Everyone in the room shares a common area of interest; if you’re not a fan of small talk, you can discuss the program topic.
Don’t dismiss small talk
For introverts, small talk is a special form of torture. As tedious as discussing the weather, college sports and other people’s kids can be, it’s an important starting point and counts as a new connection. Remember, this is why you’re there.
Beware of traps
Introverts tend to be great listeners, and with that comes the danger of being entrapped by those who love the sound of their own voice. If you find yourself ensnared by one of these, extricate yourself by politely asking for their business card and offering to follow up at another time. Pretend to make a phone call or head for another group.
Don’t turn into a pumpkin
Arrive early and leave early to avoid the crowd. People tend to be more open to chatting with strangers in the early stages of an event, when there’re just a few in the room (bonus: you can re-visit your new friend later in the evening and ask her/him to introduce you to their group.) Introverts have limited energy for socializing, so don’t stress yourself by pushing too far and leave while you’re still in good form.
Become a regular
A familiar smile or “how are you?” will go a long way for even the shyest person. Volunteer for a recurring event or ongoing initiatives such as an OBA committee or Section executive.
Take an active role
While the idea of working a room can be terrifying, many introverts are reasonably comfortable in front of a crowd when in a defined role. Volunteering as a program speaker, master of ceremonies, host or even photographer allows for natural interaction with less effort on your part.
Use social media
If networking events just aren’t your thing, use your talents elsewhere to create a name for yourself. Online networking is a great way to connect with the many other brilliant, introverted lawyers out there. Use the written word to exchange ideas on forums, articles, LinkedIn, Twitter and the many other social media platforms frequented by lawyers. Legal bloggers have a very tight, inclusive community with vast networks across all areas of practice.
In this age of evolving communication, it's easier than ever to get creative with networking in a format that works best for you.
About the Author
Catherine Brennan is the Managing Editor of JUST. firstname.lastname@example.org