As an introvert, you may have written off networking.
Inserting yourself into a noisy room of strangers sounds horrible. The commotion of the event drains you. You hate small talk. And even when you’ve found agreeable people, you can’t think of anything to say.
To their detriment, many introverts give up on networking and leave it to the extroverts.
Time to turn the tables: introverts can become great networkers. They may not have a natural talent or inclination for it. But when has not “feeling” like it ever stopped an ambitious, competent introvert?
Introverts can pick up almost anything from reading and observation. And networking is no different.
Here are some tips to help introverts crush your next networking outing. (Click here to tweet these tips.)
Go to places you like
Introverts can be picky about how they spend their time. If you normally wouldn’t hang out in a loud bar, then why would you go there for networking?
Try finding groups with a common interest — for example, a local art museum. Events in a calmer environment like this will let you relax and focus on connecting with others. And depending on the venue, you might have a built-in conversation topic.
Quieter events tend to draw fellow introverts, so you will feel more at home. Even if you have trouble chatting with others, you can still enjoy the event with fellow introverts.
Do some prep work
Again, introverts love to study. Don’t go to the networking event cold — have some thoughts and questions ready. By processing the event before diving in, you will get better results with less work. If the event is at a new restaurant, read a review. Featured speaker? See if he’s written anything. Opening a conversation with a casual comment about the event, venue, or speaker is far more natural than a forced “What do you do?”
Mingling can be draining for extroverts. If you’re going to a networking event later that day, be sure to prepare. Spend a few minutes in the car gathering energy before making your entry, or spend a few quiet moments outside before entering the event.
If you’re starting to wear down mid-event, make a quick getaway to the bathroom to recharge. We all have only so much energy. This is why you will often find introverts closer to the exits at events. As an introvert, you just happen to spend more of it when you’re with other people. Compensate for this by pacing your interactions.
Interested = interesting
Introverts sometimes feel uncomfortable with strangers, but are curious about nearly everything. By having others talk about their interests, you play to both traits. If you meet an engineer, don’t say, “Oh, I could never do that. I hate numbers.” Right away, you’ve upset your acquaintance. Introverts need to be particularly careful about this as they tend to offput people.
Instead say, “What branch of engineering do you work in?” People love to talk about themselves. And the introvert’s natural curiosity leads to engaging questions. Introverts love to watch and gather information, so steer the conversation into something enjoyable and listen away. Guess what? If you are interested in other people, people will find you interesting. (See #5 here for more tips on communicating warmly.)
Complimented? Just say “thank you”
According to Devora Zack, introverts think before talking, while extroverts do the opposite. “Introverts require time to process data before properly responding,” she says in Networking for People Who Hate Networking. Because they are so careful in their own language selection, introverts may see compliments from others as empty schmoozing. You might want to immediately change the subject like you never heard it. Or you’ll will try for a witty comeback — one that almost always comes out cold.
Instead, just smile, say “Thank you,” and move on. Nothing further is required.
Introverts avoid networking events because they don’t want to handle a whole night of small talk. Networking can take far less time than you think, especially if you are prepared. You only really need a few minutes with someone to form a connection. Ask a few questions, know what you came for, and leave.
Too many people overstay their welcome at events and start to bore each other. Think about the most powerful networkers — celebrities. They breeze in, say a few words, and make a quick exit. This truncated appearance should appeal to introverts. In fact, many politicians are introverts — is there a connection between introversion and effective networking here? Maybe so!
Not every networking opportunity is a good fit for introverts. So think strategically about which events to attend and prepare. Fortunately, this kind of planning is the introvert’s strength.
With these tips, you can go to networking events, enjoy them, and form valuable relationships.
George Mount is a business analyst in Cleveland, OH. Follow him on Twitter @gjmount.