Think that you are doomed to fail at networking because you are an introvert? Think again!
Many self-described introverts feel that the networking field is just not built for them to successfully play the game. Walking into the room like they own it, striking up a conversation with a stranger, and dazzling people with their ease and charm — those are the “perfect” ingredients that seem to be required in order to win at networking. Is there any hope for the introvert?
There is, especially when we take an honest look at what it really means to be introverted. Common misperceptions include such myths as “introverts hate being with people,” “introverts aren't good at interacting with others,” and “introverts need to be rescued from social situations.”
Those myths could not be further from reality. Introversion and extraversion merely point to the way individuals prefer to recharge. According to the Myers-Briggs Foundation, introverts tend to build up their energy in a quiet space by themselves, while extroverts get energized when surrounded by people and activity. It's important to remember that introversion, just as extraversion, is simply a preference and a tool. Those who understand it, accept it, and create a strategy to use it for maximum benefit may find that introversion is the secret sauce for boosting their careers.
So yes, introverts can network with great success! Here are 10 networking tips for introverts to try.
Honor the way you recharge
Remember that introverts recharge and recover alone. As you prepare to go into a networking event that will stretch your comfort zone, make sure that you allow for an adequate build up of energy. Think twice about hosting a get-together, going to a party, or hanging out with co-workers the night before. Instead, do something that has a proven track record of making you feel energized: some solo time reading, a walk outside, a relaxing bath, or even an earlier bedtime. The same goes for your post-event recovery. Build in a cushion of time and space around the networking event and you will perform better (and entertain the idea of doing it again in the future).
Set reasonable expectations
Going into a networking event with no plan is a recipe for wasting time. However, wrong expectations can derail the value you get from attending an event. Be sure to reflect on what you hope to accomplish and set reasonable expectations that play up your strengths. If being a social butterfly isn't a natural fit for your personality, don't try to collect 25 business cards in an hour. Setting out to make one or two meaningful connections may suit you better and prove to be more productive in the long run.
Ask for introductions
Walking into a conference hall or a networking event where you don't know anyone can be nerve wracking. If you are worried that you will freeze up and waste the opportunity, consider recruiting some help. Approach a panel moderator or one of the event organizers, introduce yourself, and ask for their advice. Who do they think you should meet? Would they mind making an introduction?
In order for this approach to be effective, reflect on your goals beforehand to help the other person make meaningful and specific suggestions. “I want to meet important people who can get me my next job” isn't likely to serve you well. Instead, focus on what's unique about your situation and your goal for the event, as well as the value you can add to others.
Listen more, talk less
This will come naturally to you as an introvert, and it can be surprisingly effective. Think about the last time someone really listened to what you had to say without interrupting, looking at a cell phone, or losing focus. True listening is rare, which is why we value it so much. Treat the person in front of you as if they had the power to write about you on the front page of the New York Times — be curious, be present, and be patient.
Prepare unusual questions and icebreakers
Nervous that you won't find the right words when it's time to start a conversation? Do your homework ahead of time and bring some ideas with you. From unusual questions to fresh icebreakers, having a few options at the ready means that you will feel more comfortable initiating contact. It can also make you more effective and memorable.
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Expect some awkwardness
Just because you arrive energized and prepared does not mean that everything during the networking event will go smoothly. Human interactions can be messy, so do expect some awkwardness and false starts. If you are feeling anxious, if the event feels like a waste of time, or if you have a bad experience early on, you can give yourself an out. However, try not to leave too quickly. Instead, set a limit of 30–45 minutes to get a feel for the room, pick up a snack or a drink, and try starting a few conversations. You might be surprised to find yourself warming up to the event and staying longer.
Put away your phone
What do we do in uncertain social situations? Some people eat, some people drink, and virtually everyone pulls out a smartphone. It's the ultimate accessory to make yourself look busy and important, even if all you are doing is scrolling through your Instagram feed. You might feel safe hidden behind the virtual wall, but looking at your phone can prevent other people from engaging with you. So, as you prepare to walk into a networking event, put that phone somewhere you cannot access easily and set a time limit of 30 minutes before you check it again.
Manage your inner critic
Networking events can bring out the worst in your inner voice. “You don't deserve to be here,” “You are boring and no one will want to talk to you,” and “Everyone is looking at you” can play on repeat inside your head, lowering your confidence and making you feel like coming to the event was a mistake. Do your best to shut the inner critic off, or at the very least lower the volume on the negative mental chatter. Remind yourself that you have the credentials and the experience to be here, that many people find you interesting, and that everyone is far too busy with their own conversations to pay attention to your every move.
Keep your energy up
Networking events can be draining, especially for an introvert. Fuel up and hydrate before you step through the door. Aim for a small meal or a snack with a good balance of protein, carbs, and fats to keep you content and energized. Watch your caffeine intake, especially if you are already feeling anxious. Same goes for alcohol. A glass of wine might look like a great idea, but avoid anything that might compromise your image as a professional.
Have a post-event plan
Many introverts are tempted to breathe out a sigh of relief and curl up in a room by themselves for a week following a large networking event. Don't feel like you must send a batch of generic “nice to meet you” emails within 24 hours. However, over two or three days after the event, do find the time to send messages to the professionals you would like to stay in touch with.
Keep your outreach brief and personal; mention a specific detail you remember about the conversation. If someone was generous with advice, let them know what you've done with it. If you would enjoy meeting them again for a coffee, suggest that as the next step. Give everyone an “out”: You are interacting with busy professionals. Don't assume that they will be available, but do let them know that their time and expertise would mean a lot to you. Gratitude is the key to successful networking.
Here's what it might look like.
It was great to meet you at the Financial Planning Association event earlier this week. I deeply appreciate your advice to reach out to the conference organizers and get involved. I have connected with Susan, the President of the Board, who was excited about my offer to help with coordinating the next event.
Our conversation got me thinking about exploring professional opportunities within the local financial planning firms. Would you be open to meeting me for 15–20 minutes over a coffee sometime next week? Please let me know.”
Introverts can be great at networking!
True networking, or connecting deeply with fellow professionals, is a core strength for many introverts. In order to get the most out of networking, begin by choosing the right events. A noisy-rooftop bar reception is likely to be less productive and more stressful than a fireside chat. Think about the environment that positions you to be at your best and opt into the more advantageous events first.
Honor your preferences by recharging your batteries before the event, fueling up with nutritious foods, and preparing a few icebreakers. Give yourself a minimum time limit before you sneak out the back door. Stack the deck in your favor by asking for introductions and have a game plan for post-event follow up. Above all, look for ways and opportunities to reclaim networking and make it work for your style, and you will be rewarded with life-long professional connections and a world-class network.
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