Admittedly, walking into a room full of strangers and randomly picking some of them to share your life and career goals with, is not everyone’s cup of tea. And for many in particular, this professional mingling can seem like a fight-or-flight kind of situation. Yes, we're talking to you, introverts.
But guess what? Networking for introverts is not only possible, but it can also be super rewarding! Flustered cheeks and sweaty handshakes will be a thing of the past once you’re in on a few secrets about effective networking. And the best part is, you don’t even have to try to act like an extrovert. You do you, baby, and the world will follow.
Want to gain confidence in the suit and tie social spectrum? Or maybe you feel more comfortable in the biz casual club? Then go ahead and read on to find out our helpful tips on how to reach out to strangers (professionally!).
So why is networking harder for introverts?
If you’re an introvert, you probably have already heard that introverts are more likely to talk less and listen more. This is why, if you’re one of them, it can sometimes be hard to strike up a conversation from scratch with someone you don’t know, or better yet, tell them how you really feel about their project.
Introverts are also more inwardly focused. They prefer quiet surroundings over loud gatherings. Social swarms tend to drain their energy. And don’t even get them started on small talk - their arch nemesis. As much as some might hate it, though, small talk is essentially the building block of networking events.
Having said all this, it doesn’t mean that as an introvert, you are worse at networking than your average extrovert. You might not know it yet, but you have some aces up the sleeve, such as being able to actually listen to what the person next to you is saying, instead of thinking up yet another story to boast about yourself. Watch out, extroverts, these introverts have class!
They may need a little nudge to get started, but introverts are natural connectors and relationship deepeners. So, fellow introvert, there’s no reason why you should feel out of place in a professional networking context. But if that all wasn’t enough of a pep talk, we’ve prepared some nifty tips to help you shine.
How introverts can make their networking more effective
1. Plan ahead
Take a big chunk of anxiety out of networking and plan a little beforehand. For one, it may be useful to have a look at who’s attending the event and introduce yourself to a few of them online. This is especially helpful if the thought of walking into a room full of strangers makes you want to hit the ground running in the opposite direction. A LinkedIN ping or two will help break the ice before you even arrive because you’ll know at least one person you look forward to meeting.
It’s also a good idea to plan out what you might want to say about yourself or get more information about. Should you run into an awkward situation, you’ll be able to fall back on your elevator pitch, standard questions or topics that you feel comfortable talking about. There’s no shame in practicing your intro beforehand. A few sentences can go a long way.
2. Go for the first person you see
Do you find yourself fretting about where to begin? Just start wherever with whoever! The most important thing is to start engaging and loosen up a bit from the moment you walk in the door. If you’re worried about weaseling into a circle of conversations, be an early bird. It’s much less intimidating when you’re one of the 20 people in the room instead of one in a hundred.
Don’t forget: Everyone there wants to meet YOU! They’re all there for the very same reason. If one-on-ones are easier for you than the big groups, go ahead and approach that lonesome person. They’ll probably be grateful you did, and you, too.
3. Listen actively
That should be easy to do, right? Be it you are an introvert after all. But listening isn’t just about nodding your head, waiting for your turn to speak. Don’t listen to respond. Listen to understand. Don’t worry about what you’re going to say next. It’s actually much better if you let the conversation flow freely and ask interesting questions candidly. Be curious! If you’re looking for some inspiration, here’s a list of questions you may find helpful.
Whatever you do, try to find something that you have in common with your networking partner, be it a similar career goal, a favorite hobby or a place that you both visit religiously. It will make it easier to connect and a great reason to follow up!
4. Take five
Networking is hard work, especially if you’re an introvert. If you feel like your focus is fading and it’s getting harder to keep up, take a break to breathe, reflect and connect with your thoughts. Grab a drink of water or simply step outside for fresh air. Networking is more of a marathon than a sprint, so pace yourself.
5. Go with a buddy
If the thought of going on your own makes you squirm, take a colleague or a friend along. Sometimes it’s quite useful to have a wingman or woman, especially if they work in the same industry.
Don’t be afraid to ask for introductions, if your colleague already knows some people. But you shouldn’t rely on them to do the work for you. As soon as you feel a bit more comfortable, go forth and explore! You’ll have plenty of time to check back later.
So we hope you’ll use these tips to curb your networking anxiety and make the most of your next event. Remember to always smile and enjoy the evening!
And if after all this, you’re still wondering, “What in the heck even is a networking event?”, then why not try one out and see for yourself? Sign up to Clustered and be the first to find out about our next gathering!