It’s less than two weeks to go until the amazing Helen Packham’s Entrepreneurial Leaders Live event in Brighton and I’m really excited.
But I can also feel the usual underlying resistance my introverted self tends to feel about going to live events.
I haven’t booked my accommodation yet, despite spending hours over the past a few months researching, I haven’t really engaged in the pre-event group, and nor have I put my hand up for the dinners being organised both on the night before and the first night, even though I’m really keen to go.
The truth is I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with live events, both those I attend and the ones I organise.
For some people, networking at events fills them with energy, but for others like me, just the thought of walking into a room full of people makes them feel worn out.
As an introvert, my knee jerk reaction tends to be to avoid live events because just the thought of being surrounded by so many people drains my energy. Part of me gets excited about the event itself but then the resistance kicks in and I procrastinate over making a decision, often missing out on opportunities and special pricing as a result.
The main problem for me tends to be meeting a lot of people I’ve never met before…but it’s the thought of having to do small talk that really fills me with dread.
What I’ve discovered though, is despite the battle I have with my mind beforehand, I actually do quite enjoy going to events.
I’ve always loved to learn, and I do quite like getting out of the house, especially now that I work from home and don’t get to meet people face to face on a daily basis. And in particular, I love to finally meet people I’ve only been able to interact with online.
BUT…I’ve found that in order to make them work for me I need to deploy strategies and put in place boundaries.
Keeping your eye out for pre-event networking opportunities
Probably the most nerve-wracking part of attending events is actually walking into the room.
One way to get around this is to arrange to meet others beforehand. Even if you don’t know anyone prior to the event opportunities will often crop up to connect with people who are going beforehand, so keep your eyes open.
A few months ago I went to an event at The Ritz in London. I hadn’t met anyone before in person and had only really connected with a few people who were going. But on the night before the event a lady who was going put out a post asking if anyone wanted to share a taxi. I saw she was coming into the same station as me so immediately jumped on the opportunity, and as a result I got to meet two ladies and get to know them a bit better before we reached the venue.
But there will be occasions where these opportunities don’t arise, so what do you do then?
Learning the art of owning the room
Over the course of my career I’ve learned the art of walking into a room with an air of confidence and making it look like I fitted in, even if that’s not how I was feeling on the inside.
The first thing I do, especially if I’ve never been to the venue before, is to be prepared. I’ll do as much research as possible beforehand so I know where I’m going. This reduces the risk of ending up standing there looking like a bunny in headlights, or arriving feeling flustered. And the same applies when it comes to giving myself plenty of time to get there.
The next thing you need to do is master the art of walking into the room as if you belong there. Walking into a room full of strangers is nerve wracking. Before you enter, think of a time when you felt full of confidence and really allow yourself to remember exactly how you felt in that moment. As you enter the room, it’s important to remember to keep your head up, make eye contact and smile at people.
Look around and see if you can spot anyone you know who you could join. Or failing that, scan the room for an open spot at a table or empty seat you can quickly slide into.
Remember you don’t have to be a networking superhero
I often watch those who circulate the room with ease, talking and laughing with friends and strangers alike while I stand there awkwardly with my cup of coffee trying to work out how I can insert myself into the group conversation going on only a few metres away. But my biggest problem tends to be not knowing what to say.
As an introvert I hate small talk. I don’t see the point of it and would much rather be talking about something meaningful. Talk to me about something I feel passionate about and my eyes will light up and I can talk until the cows come home, but go down the small talk route and my mind goes blank an I can feel my eyes glazing over.
It’s easy to put pressure on yourself to make the most of this opportunity to network with as many people as possible, but doing so puts you at risk of burning yourself out too quickly.
Instead of spreading yourself thin trying to talk to everyone, focus on getting to know a few people who you really resonate with. You will find it much more rewarding.
Don’t feel obliged to stick around afterwards
The event can be a challenge in itself, but that’s often not the end of the story. Then we get the after parties and the pre- and post-event dinners…
Now in some respects these can be better opportunities to network for an introvert as you get more time to warm up and talk about things you like talking about, but after a whole day in company these additional opportunities to socialise can be a step too far.
So if you’re already feeling drained by a day of networking, don’t feel guilty about skipping out on post event functions to rest and recuperate.
Schedule some down time
Much as I enjoy events, I tend to feel really drained for a day or two afterwards, especially if the event runs over several days or there is a fair bit of travelling to get to and from the event.
Knowing this in advance means I’m able to keep my schedule clear for a few days after the event to give myself the time and space I need to recuperate fully.
I also find it gives me the space to reflect on the event and what I’ve learned from it. I often get some of my best ideas during this down time so it’s a good idea to keep a notebook and a pen close by to note them down and come back to them when you’re feeling refreshed.
What helps you get the most of events? Or have you had the tendency to shy away from them until now?
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