Upcoming talk: The Shy Connector

For Women in Technology International (WITI). Target: 5-7 minutes core presentation, lots of discussion, 5-minute wrap-up at the end. Target 750-1050 words. ~830 words so far. Creative constraint: Tweetable segments. This will be an update of The Shy Connector (Aug 2009).

The Shy Connector: How to get strangers to talk to you.

Hi, I’m Sacha Chua, and I’m an introvert. <clapping>

You might be too. Do you prefer bookstores more than bars? Puzzles more than parties? Close friends more than crowds?

It can be hard to connect as an introvert. LinkedIn and Facebook can feel like high school popularity contests. Meetups can be overwhelming.

What can you do if you’re shy about sharing yourself?

There are plenty of books and blogs about social networking, because success and happiness often depends on who you know and who knows you.

“Sell yourself!” “Brand yourself!” “Attend as many events as you can!” “Talk to people in the elevator!” Right.

Most of the networking tips I’ve read seem to be for extroverts who don’t find it hard to talk to strangers.

Me, I hate starting conversations. I find it hard to make small talk. I’m often too shy to reach out. Following up with people takes effort.

Sounds familiar? Ever felt that way too?

Here are seven things I’ve learned about connecting. I hope these tips will help you play to your strengths…

… because those characteristics of yours are strengths.

Tip 1: Being an introvert is okay.

You don’t need to fake being extroverted. You don’t need to be a glad-handing, business-card-throwing networker.

Go ahead. Listen and ask questions during conversations. Give yourself quiet time to recharge. Connect online if you want.

Figure out what works for you.

For me, blogging often works out better than going to events. Now I know that, it’s easier for me to say, “No, I’m planning to stay home.”

Tip 2: Give people reasons to talk to you.

Most people find it hard to start a conversation, too. Do them a favour and give them excuses to talk to you.

An interesting hat makes you easy to find in a crowd. Accessories with character can draw remarks. Keywords on your nametag lead to conversation.

My favourite? Giving a presentation. Talking to a hundred people is easier than talking to two. You can rehearse, and you reach more people.

See someone who looks even more uncomfortable than you? Reach out and start the conversation. You’re surrounded by reasons to talk.

Tip 3: Change your perspective.

It’s not about selling yourself. It’s not about marketing your personal brand. It’s not about figuring out what other people can do for you.

Focus on what can help other people be happier and more successful. Ask questions. Explore.

Focusing the spotlight to the other person means less anxiety. It’s easy to get to know people when you’re focused on them, not you.

Tip 4: Look for ways to help.

While you’re listening, think: What do you know? Who do you know? How can you help?

Have you read a book they might like? Have you talked to someone they should meet? Do you have an interesting idea that can save them time?

Even if you can’t help right away, if you remember what they need, you may be able to connect the dots later.

Tip 5: Give yourself homework.

Following up with someone is easier when you’ve promised to send them a link or introduce them to someone else who can help.

That’s why you should always carry something you can use to take notes. Why worry about forgetting, when you can write things down?

Tip 6: Make it easy to get to know you.

So you’ve met someone, learned about their interests, and followed up. How do you build the connection from there?

Even if you don’t like talking about yourself, you can make it easier for other people to get to know you.

Share your interests, skills, and goals. The more people know about what you can do, the more you can find opportunities to help them.

A website or profile is a good way to start. Link to it in your e-mail signature and put it on your business card.

A blog is even better. If you share tips, ideas, and a bit of a personal touch, people might even subscribe and get to know you over time.

They might even help you grow! =)

Tip 7: Keep growing, and your network will grow with you.

As you develop your passions, improve your skills, and grow your network, you’ll be able to create more value—and more, and more, and more.

The more you understand your passions, the easier it is to communicate.

The more you improve your skills, the more you can help others.

The more people you know, the more introductions and connections you can make.

If you share what you’re learning with people, your network can grow along with you.

Then you won’t have to fake being an extrovert or drain yourself of energy–people and opportunities will flow to you.

Which of these tips would you like to focus on, practice, and learn more about? How can I help you explore your networking potential?

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Paragraphs as short as these still feel staccato. I wonder how to be concise and yet conversational… Should I relax this constraint? =)