Have you found yourself being promoted into an I.T. management role even though you are by nature an introvert? It is a difficult proposition as managers need to communicate, connect and interact with people much more than when you were a technical guru alone. Introverts dominate the technology space and surviving the increased pressure to be social can be difficult.
I am an introvert. The gift of gab eludes me and conversations at a company are extraordinarily difficult. Social functions leave me exhausted. Those introvert tendencies go back 30+ years and are part of who I was created to be. Despite that, I have lead numerous teams, started consulting and software development companies, sat in executive boardrooms, and filled the roles of IT Manager, Director and even CIO. Yet, I’m still an introvert. Let me share 5 tips to help you overcome your introverted ways without having to change who you are.
1. Baby Steps
Like learning a new programming language or a new technology, read up on how to make conversation. Grab a book, hit up YouTube or for goodness sake, Google it. Read up on the topic of being more socially adept. But, reading only takes you so far. At some point, you have to roll up your sleeves and dig in. This is where you can take your first baby steps.
- Invite two staff members to lunch, your treat. You’re a manager now.
- Three or more help keep the conversation going. When you don’t know what to say, someone else will.
- Food + Out of office = More open conversations
- Talking to staff members is talking to folks you likely know better than a random person at a mixer.
- Ask more questions about the others at the table than talking about yourself.
- Before the day of lunch, write down 3 questions you can ask to keep the conversation going when awkward silence arrives.
2. Schedule Regular Interaction Time
Now that you have had lunch with a couple of folks from the team or office, it’s time to keep the momentum going. Schedule a regular time to meet with your team members, colleagues and stakeholders you have to interact with. Scheduling these interactions ahead of time allows you to keep “downtime” between interactions as a time to decompress, recharge and ready yourself for the next interaction. Downtime is just as important to the introvert as the social interaction time. Be intentional about both, not just one of these.
3. Know Your Wingman
At some point, you will have to go to a company dinner, vendor soiree, a meetup or a conference. Since it is eventually going to happen, why not make it happen on your schedule by being proactive. When you do, bring a wingman.
By wingman, I mean someone you know already, has a reason to be at the event and is possibly a bit more social than you are. Be honest with them and tell them that these types of events are not your thing but that you know you need to get better at them. You might be surprised that they feel the same way. By ensuring you have someone with you that you know, the situation will feel less awkward and your confidence level will rise.
Now, this is not a get out jail free card that allows you to let your wingman do all the talking. You need to push yourself to start, carry and end conversations. However, if you get stuck, your wingman will sense it and jump in to help. When they do, listen carefully to how they do it. Listening is key to learning.
4. Practice Your Pitch
The spotlight is on you. You have to give the dreaded presentation convincing a room of peers or higher ups that what you are saying is true and has some importance to them. You can read lots of book and articles on presenting effectively. My tips are basic, practical and yet highly effective.
Prepare your presentation well in advance. Doing so gives you plenty of time to proof it several times over several days. It also allows you to prepare to present rather than scrabbling to finish the presentation without time to practice the presentation itself. Give yourself time.
Practice the entire presentation. By practicing, I mean really stand up in a room with your presentation materials and give your presentation to yourself. Say it out loud. Use a stopwatch (app) to time yourself and make sure you are not too long winded. When you’re done, do it again and again and again. Do it until you know the presentation by heart.
Predict and practice answering the questions that will be asked. You’re smart. Write down the questions that will likely be asked. Then, ask yourself if you can answer the question proactively in the presentation itself. If so, you just made yourself sound smarter. Then, practice answering each question you can think of. Rinse and repeat. Practicing answering tough questions will lead to more confident responses that sound and feel more authoritative, true and trustworthy.
Have a Plan B. If any part of your presentation requires a resource you do not physically have in the room, come prepared with a Plan B. A real life example. If you are playing a YouTube video as part of your presentation, bring a local copy of the video. Don’t count on the internet connection working. Did you do your presentation as a Prezi online? Pay up and download a local copy of it, just in case. Nothing is worse for credibility than not being able to do you presentation due to “technical” issues when you are the technical guy/gal.
5. Be Comfortable Being Alone
The final tip is that being alone should become comfortable. What I mean is that you need to get comfortable being the only person in the room with a differing viewpoint on topics. Do it in a credible, gracious manner but don’t be afraid to ask the folks in the room if they had thought about the topic from a different perspective and then give that perspective. You might be surprised how many times they have not and will suddenly start an excited discussion about the alternative viewpoint. You will gain credibility and have helped improve a decision.