Some professionals love meeting and greeting. They enjoy attending events and working a room, and they seem to be natural born networkers. I am NOT one of these people. I’m a classic, textbook, introvert who, despite knowing the importance of networking, sometimes still finds it to be a challenge. It’s because networking doesn’t come easily to me that I understand the trials of trying to network as an introvert. In fact, networking tips for introverts has become one of the most popular topics in my workshops.
Experts tell us that 70 to 85 percent of jobs are filled through networking. It’s a bit more difficult to get statistics for entrepreneurs. Yet, we know that if the “know, like, trust” rule of business holds, networking is key for business owners as well. So what can introverts do to improve in this crucial area?
Do your homework. Nothing is quite as uncomfortable to an introvert as entering a room full of total strangers. In the past, you might have waited around for someone you knew to introduce you around the room, or just stood stone-like at the refreshments table. Technology, and social media in particular, has leveled the playing field for introverts a bit. We can research the venue, read the profiles of organizers and sometimes other attendees, and even engage in online conversations before the event. This takes away some of that room full of strangers feeling.
Be selective. Since networking drains introverts of energy, don’t try to attend every event in your town. You’ve only got so much energy and calendar space before needing alone time to regroup, so be choosy about where you go. Pick groups and events with a stellar reputation. Opt for organizations that provide you with lots of online information [See Do Your Homework above]. Aim for crowds that are most likely to contain your ideal customer or key people in your industry. Evaluate events and don’t return to venues that make you uncomfortable or that leave you feeling like you’ve wasted your time.
Partner up. A networking buddy can be useful no matter what your personality. From helping you find a parking space to reminding you to put business cards in your pocket, a networking partner makes sense. If you’re an extrovert, buddying up for networking just adds to the socialization and the fun. If you’re an introvert, your networking partner provides you with support, a conversation assistant, and in the worst cases someone to read your signals and get you out the door if needed. For introverts who are really uncomfortable with networking, a trusted partner provides someone to practice with before events and someone who will help you learn to break the ice and engage in a crowded setting.
Recover and reward yourself. As an introvert you know you need alone time to recover after a taxing social situation. You should be building this into your schedule on a regular basis. In addition, after high stakes or high stress networking events, reward yourself with a favorite activity. Books, video games, or an evening of movies all on your own, make excellent treats for the introverted professional.
As an introvert you can be an effective networker, without making yourself miserable. The key is to play to your strengths and to be mindful of your own needs. Introverts make good listeners and really shine in one-on-one interactions, so don’t try to work the whole room. Instead have a few high quality conversations. Introverts excel at reading body language and other social cues; we spend a lot of time people watching. Use this ability to connect beyond the “Hello… here’s my card… ” kind of exchanges. Becoming known as an attentive listener who really works to establish genuine relationships will become part of your brand. This will eventually have others seeking you out at events and further relieve some of that networking pressure.
Some final tips:
Arrive early-the host of the event will probably ask you to help with final details and introduce you to the first few attendees.
Ask questions about what the other person does, likes, or hopes to accomplish.
Have a confidence boosting routine for pre-networking. Deep breathing, striking “power poses” or a few minutes of a mirror pep talk, can make all the difference.