Whether you learn more towards an I or E in your Myers-Briggs test, networking can be a stressful and taxing ordeal. For fellow introverts, you already know that the idea of a large, chaotic group of new people is about the least appealing thing in the world. What I've come to realize over the past few years of attending conferences and meetups is to focus on the end goals — rather than the size of the room — to help me network better. While these may not be applicable for everyone, here are a couple of steps and things I've done in the past that have made networking as an introvert easier and more manageable.
Jameson! It works like a charm. (Actually, this may not be the worst idea but let's focus on the real stuff.)
1. Set your goals.
Before attending a networking event like a meetup, set a handful of particular goals you want to achieve. "Meet new people in my industry" isn't a real goal because it's not really tangible. If your New Year’s resolution is to read more is that a page or novel? When have you achieved your goal? Instead, give yourself a number and stick to it – "I want to give my resume or business card to 5 people." Try to push yourself a little out of your comfort zone, so that it’s a challenge but don’t set unrealistic expectations. You don’t want to go home to work on your night cheese feeling like you’ve failed – networking isn’t about that.
2. Lower your Bacon number.
You may have come across this article earlier this spring but Facebook has announced that there aren't six degrees of separation anymore – it's more like 3.57. Before you attend, do a bit of research to see if anyone you already know will be there. The best option will be to bring a buddy of course, but if you're going solo there is likely someone who is at least a friend of a friend. A mutual point of contact is a great way to start a conversation or introduce yourself to a recruiter or HR rep.
3. Dress up.
One of my favorite life pro tips for productivity is about my shoes. When I get off work I head home, drop off my laptop and remove my kicks. By taking off my shoes when I get home I know that I've moved from work mode to couch mode. The tip here is to actually stay laced up accomplish the chores and things you need to get done.
We've trained ourselves into associating getting dressed up with work or a change. By keeping on my work clothes I can stay in work mode, even at home.
For the next networking event you're planning on attending, dress up a bit and see if putting yourself into work mode will help. Not only will you not want to waste the time you've spent on yourself but it can be a nice confidence booster as well. I always feel a bit better when I’m dressed well.
4. Conversation Preparation.
In Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts, she makes a strong point about talking point preparedness. She notes that introverts that are well prepared in conference situations have the advantage of coming off as calm and collected. If you're concerned about perception keep this little note in the back of your mind.
Use the time before the event to consider questions – like you would an interview – and come equipped. Handy go-tos are "How did you get into your current position?" (rather than how did you get your specific job) and "What part of your job do you find most enjoyable?"
1. Location, location, location.
I've mentioned conferences and meetups, but if you want to network choose a situation which makes you feel most comfortable – network over coffee, phone or in person. For IRL networking events like conferences, it could even be a spot in the room.
I personally like to be in sight of the door so I don’t feel trapped but others may like to be in the front to be more attentive. Try to push yourself a little, but if sitting towards the back of the room helps you – do you!
Networking doesn't have to be at large events. Find the gatekeepers or representatives you're trying to get in contact with and reach out directly to them via email or social networks. Networking can – and should be – mutually beneficial. So a cold-message can go a long way without a lot of negative repercussions.
I've always found that networking in real life is more like LinkedIn than Facebook – you're meeting people who want to be met and vice-versa. With Facebook, unsolicited messages feel like breach of personal space but with LinkedIn there is the air of utility behind it. The person you're speaking with is in the same boat as you are – trying to expand their network.
2. You're in this together.
Speaking of being in the same boat, it’s said that anywhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of people self-identify as introverts. For large-scale events, it could mean that half the other people in the room don't quite want to be there either (or at least would prefer a different setting). There will be a lot of other people who will be anxious and maybe even a bit nervous about the process.
If you're comfortable with it, try making the first approach.
When I'm at events and someone comes up to me I've always found it nice that they're taking that first step. I don’t always try to make the first impression, but am always impressed when people do. (Remember my mention above about introverts who prepare seeming more confident? This is where it all happens.) I don't necessarily want to say "fake it until you make it" but no one will be the wiser otherwise. Find that other person who may be huddled off in the corner and be their buddy – it'll work out best for everyone.
3. Know when to recharge.
Use the Pomodoro Technique of 25 minutes on, 5 minutes off at networking events. Grab your nametag, get a drink or snack, mingle and converse and then take a break from the group. I'll usually head into the hallway to find a water fountain or get into the open air. I often feel really drained after about 15 to 20 minutes of conversion and the idea of speaking with strangers non-stop makes me anxious.
If you can find a way to politely excuse yourself or take a quick break it will do wonders to your mental state.
My goals during the break are simple – refocus on what I've accomplished, what I have left to do, and lastly, try not to talk myself into bailing. To help the last point I try not to go down the wormhole that is my phone's screen. The phone can be a safety net, but a barrier to entry so I try to use it sparingly.
4. Conversation topics.
For this section I came up with a lot of platitudes that are really all too situational. Keep it casual. Talk less, listen more.
When in doubt, talk about Game of Thrones.
All of these are excellent conversation structures, but it comes down to what you're most comfortable with. There are a few small things that I think always work well though.
First, have an elevator pitch. Based on who I'm talking to "what I do" evolves from "digital marketing" to "I create and manage online advertising campaigns for small and medium businesses." Each pitch is a little different based on the audience. Yours should be a little flexible too.
Second, more often than not networking is not about who you are, it's what you do. Hobbies, your job specialties and how you think are going to stand out more than titles and positions.
Third, make sure you have a few industry related questions in your back pocket. My go-to question series is "tell me a good thing about (enter your career/event/job here), a bad thing about it and a secret that someone outside of it doesn't probably know." It's fairly casual and can have a bit of fun to it as well. More importantly it allows the quasi-interviewee as much time as they like to talk about the subjects, and out of the three there might be something for you to follow up with.
Finally, try to keep to what you know. Networking is a conscious effort for most introverts – there is no autopilot involved. To make the process easier talk about things that come naturally to you, be it pop culture, your job or the city you're in.
1. Send the emails.
This is the single most important factor of networking at large events, the one actually crucial thing you need to do after attending – following up. Have you ever given out business cards? What was your conversion rate of cards to emails received? If you're like some people with the strategy of "slack off and rush order business cards with one day delivery and notice that the shipping cost is just a bit pricey, but those cards will be important for this startup crawl and after you do the math notice that you're essentially handing out one dollar bills to strangers hoping for an email" (hey, I'm not naming names, this could be anyone) you might need to reevaluate your strategy.
A stack of business cards or resumes sent into the wind is not as valuable as a follow up to a business card received. An HR representative or conference speaker may hand out and receive a hundred business cards at an event, but if you follow up you're going to immediately be in a small percentage of people who do. The next day/week/month your tiny 3.5x2 card isn't going to stand out as much as a personal email will. For fellow introverts, we've already been through the worst part.
Not following up would be like going to class all semester and skipping the final.
Networking can be stressful by itself, so do what you can to minimize any and all anxieties. With a little perspective and planning, you’ll get better – it just takes time! Remember that there are plenty of opportunities to network and meet new people. Slowly pushing yourself a little bit more out of your comfort zone one step at a time will help you network like a pro in no time.
Want to share your tips for successful networking? Leave us a comment below, we'd love to hear your thoughts!