“So, what do you do?”

I still have the hardest time with introductions, even more so now that I’m doing something… different. I’m not a chirpy entrepreneur who’ll dash off an elevator pitch for a technology startup as soon as someone so much as provides an opening. I’m not a consultant angling for a lead or a job. I’m on a medium-term experiment with business and interestingness.

Helping people makes introductions much easier, and that’s what I talked about in The Shy Connector – turning it into a connect-the-dots game, looking for ways to help people. Sometimes it works out decently, and I can shape the conversations with questions. Other times, people fall back to old habits, perhaps uncomfortable with the focus on them. They ask, “So, what do you do?” or “So, where do you work?”

I’ve been testing different replies to this. Consultant? Web developer? Writer and developer is probably closest to what I’d like to focus on this next little while – or maybe something related to experiments… I’d rather talk about how I might be able to help instead of what label I fit neatly into, but I appreciate that many people need these mental hooks to be able to remember people or to quickly evaluate how much time a conversation is worth.

I like a different style of connecting, I guess. I connect slowly online through conversations that unfold over months, longer. In person, I like stacking the deck. It’s easier when I can offer something of value – hence, notes – and even easier when I’ve already helped someone. We skip the “So, what do you do?” aspect and jump straight into the middle of a conversation.

Three events next week, so I can play around with these ideas. =) We’ll see!

Reflecting on introversion and shyness; help me find better words!

I’m an introvert. It’s not a bad thing. I’m growing into my strengths.

It took me a while to understand that part of me. My parents wanted me to enjoy myself at family reunions. My sisters called me square because I didn’t like hanging out at bars and clubs. Sometimes they let me just read. Other times, I think they wished I was more outgoing. I felt outgoing enough. I liked my own company, and that of a few others. I could spend hours just reading or using the computer. I wasn’t one of the popular kids, but I had a close-knit group of friends I brought together.

People don’t believe I’m an introvert. I speak. I write. I introduce people to others. It seems introverts should be tongue-tied in company, shying away from social contact. I’ve met some like that: hard to get to know, but rewarding when you do.

I’m learning to work with who I am. I plan my schedule so that I don’t overextend myself with events. I enjoy organizing my thoughts and communicating them through presentations, blog posts, and sketches. I get my energy through quiet time.

Thanks to books about introversion, I feel comfortable saying, “Thank you for the invitation to the party, but I’m looking forward to a quiet evening.” No need to pretend I’m over-committed. No excuses about work that needs to be done.

I can fill a conference with energy and hold my own in a room when needed. I even enjoy the buzz. But I know I’m an introvert, so I build quiet time into my schedule and I don’t feel guilty if I need a break.

Shyness is a different matter. There are shy extroverts. Shyness is social anxiety–a feeling of awkwardness, a lack of confidence.

I need a better word. I am not shy. I would just rather jump into the middle of a conversation than start one.

Given a choice between going to a cocktail party with mostly-strangers and hoping for a serendipitous connection, or reflecting on a topic and writing a blog post that can lead to more conversations over time, I’ll pick writing. It gives people reasons to start the conversation with me. It scales, too.

I mix in some randomness so that I’m not constrained by homogeneity. I take up different interests and meet different people. I reach out, read blogs, and leave comments. Yes, sometimes I start the conversation—when I can jump into the middle of it, informed by what people have shared publicly.

I don’t reach out to random people on Facebook and ask them to be my friend. I don’t chat people up at bus stops and in elevators. People who do that make me nervous. Being singled out in an anonymous crowd makes me wonder about people’s intentions. I value the ability to choose when to withdraw and when to engage.

I share, publicly and non-intrusively, so people can choose to reach out to me. We can jump into the middle of a conversation. It’s an odd sort of intimacy. It works.

So what is this? Not shy, not anti-social, not asocial… Pragmatic, because this approach lets me reach far more people? Lazy, because it reduces the work of connection? Respectful, because I give people the choice? None of those quite seem to fit. What word expresses this well?

How do you keep in touch with 500+ contacts?

“How do you keep in touch with 500+ contacts?” asked Khalid, whom I met while I was active in Toastmasters. We were connected on LinkedIn, where I’d accumulated a number of contacts along the way.

I don’t. Remember that bit about being a shy connector? I’m still working on becoming more comfortable with pinging people out of the blue.

In general, I make it easy for people to keep up to date with me through my blog and FB updates, so I’m not limited by my courage in reaching out to people. I also look for excuses to exercise my network. I take notes, too.

Don’t worry about the numbers. Focus on creating value and helping others.