By Allison Chisenhall Harding
When we first thought of SEMA being virtual, many of us immediately skipped to the thought of not seeing people we look forward to seeing all year. While we all love Las Vegas, the rows and rows of booths with every product imaginable, the custom builds, and of course, walking 30,000 steps in one day so you don’t miss a single thing--what we really get excited for is our chance to meet up in person with our extended long-distance community and make some new friends. As the Chair of the SBN Resources Committee, I was tasked with creating sessions that helped engage members even though we were thousands of miles apart, with many of us connecting from a spare bedroom or the dining room table in our house while our pets, kids, and families moved around in the background.
One of my favorite sessions of the week that we created was called Networking for Introverts. In it, I interviewed Cora Jokinen, the President of Torq-Masters Industries, and got to pick her brain about all things networking – focused around that moment when you walk into a huge room with tons of people and know absolutely no one, but somehow want to leave with some great connections that will continue into the future. We discussed the importance of an elevator speech, because you really need to have some sort of opening prepared for the inevitable question any stranger asks – who are you? We discussed tricks to navigating the daunting crowded sessions on your own – a personal favorite approach of mine was to find someone else who is also on their own, and open the conversation with a line about that, openly bonding over the nervousness that sets in for these events. We discussed the idea of approaching a car on display and casually asking a question to the person also taking a look, even if you know the answer, to help get the conversation going. We even discussed the challenges in exchanging business cards ending on the conclusion that everyone loves to give their business card, so don’t be afraid to ask!
Aside from the important educational details, I think what made this session really great was that it turned from a training session to a discussion between 5-10 women in the industry on their different challenges with networking. The session was targeted to introverts, and it was so fun to see those introverts gaining confidence and speaking up with each other just throughout the session about how they struggle to expand their network and pave their career path because of their introverted nature. With the discussion of these challenges though came resolution by discussing ways to use these personality traits as advantages – by being a fantastic listener and remembering key details about people you meet so that you can return to those details the following year when asking about their dog, their kid’s volleyball team, or their current project car.
In the end, the hour passed quickly and several new connections were formed in a way that was actually much more approachable for our crew of introverts than our normal SEMA setting would have been. Even though we didn’t get together in person, we know that we will now have a few more friendly faces that we get to catch up with when we start to navigate our post-COVID-19 world in person again together.