Mingle, mingle, mingle..

The Norwegian business paper DN had a couple of articles about ‘mingling’ the other week, including this one with some more or less good advice. It’s not a shocker that a celebrity like Fabian Stang don’t have a problem with mingling. I think what scares most people is standing alone, not the small talk you have to engage in. If you’re a celebrity, you can be pretty confident that someone will come up and talk to you. Although, I heard about a speaker who told people to please come and talk to me afterwards – because most people were to timid to talk to the main speaker. So I guess nobody’s safe when it comes to mingling. While Americans seem born to mingle, most Norwegians are not – which makes it even harder when Norwegians have to mingle.

Americans small talk all the time, everywhere. My stay here will involve a lot of mingling, as that’s one of the main reasons I’m here: to connect with people and their companies.

Todays oxymoron: How does an introvert survive mingling?  Or, even better: be good at it? I think different introverts will have to find different strategies, but hopefully my strategy can help some introverts survive. I developed it this summer, – and it also fits with my Myers-Briggs personality (take it, take it! And tell me what you got!). According to MB I’m an introvert that likes to connect deeply with other people, on an individual basis (and according to my own experiences as well).

Before when I went to classic mingling events I tried to be an extravert, and act and do as they do. I have no idea how they do it, so I ended up appearing ‘fake’, and exhausting myself. I hated mingling, and tried to avoid it as much as possible. Normally I’d just find one or two persons, and stick to them as much as possible.

The solution for me was to redefine ‘mingling’ from an extroverted activity, where you’ll have to meet a lot of people, and be very social – to a great opportunity to meet interesting, single individuals. I’ve turned my focus on the people I’ll meet, and try to get them talking about something they are enthusiastic about, or care deeply about. Everyone that you meet will be better than you at something, and everyone will have a dream, or an idea, or an interesting thought. And maybe, if I’m really lucky, they’ll tell me about it.

Last week I attended two events just to mingle. The first one was at Innovation House in Palo Alto, and the other one at a startup co-working space in downtown San Francisco. Both had a mix of international and US attendees, at Innovation House there were (of course) a high number of Norwegians. People are a mix of entrepreneurs, investors, people helping entrepreneurs and investors, people from different fields connected to entrepreneurship, and more random backgrounds. I talked to a lot of people both days. Almost all of them were very nice and interesting; we exchanged tips and ideas, and it was all good. Ex. on Thursday I met a really enthusiastic and a bit nervous entrepreneur – getting ready to give his 1-minute pitch. It was really fun to hear him talk about his product and his entrepreneur dream, and his energy was amazing.

Innovation House

A picture from the mixer at Innovation House last Wednesday. I tried to take one without people noticing, so it didn’t turn out very good.  

This summer I also read a short book about small talk, thinking it couldn’t hurt to be prepared. The book was very straight forward, with suggestions on how to approach people, what to say, what to ask, and so on. It really is as easy as walking up to someone, smile, and say “Hi, I’m Linda – I’m from YAY Images. Nice to meet you“. And then you’ll have a follow-up question ready, such as “Why are you at this event?“, “Are you one of the entrepreneurs?” or more specific if you’re targeting someone. Then you can follow up with asking them what they do, how they ended up doing X, do they live in the city, etc. If people are difficult to talk to, just smile – be polite, and find someone new (“It was really nice meeting you. Hope you’ll enjoy the rest of the evening“). Should someone give you a why are you talking to me?? look (the horror!) in response to your “Hi“, they are the stupid ones. Not you.

Another great book is the famous “How to win friends and influence people“. I’m gonna do a separate blog post(s) about this one, as it’s filled with great advice for how to behave and think. The most important advice is that you have to be genuinely interested in the other person, and their well-being. Developing this genuine interest in other people is the best advice I can give to people having a hard time with mingling and small talk. It helps you find a reason for the whole encounter, it takes the pressure of yourself (it’s not about you – it’s about them), and it makes the other person feel good when someone is really interested in what they have to say.

Still, it might be more or less easy to mingle. Most introverts need some ‘time off’. Without these pauses mingling gets increasingly harder for me. And I think it will never come as easy for introverts as it does for extroverts. We all have our strengths, and weaknesses – and the best we can do is to use them in the best possible way.

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