Ask anyone in the professional realm and they’ll tell you the same thing: Networking is a necessary part of career growth.
But, if you’re an introvert (or just a generally shy person), networking often feels more like a necessary evil.
I mean, arguably the most dread-inducing scenario you could propose to an introvert consists of throwing them into a room with very chatty people and telling them they can’t come out until they’ve made enough small talk to reach the indefinable goal of “growing their network.”
As an introvert myself, I’m queasy just thinking about it.
But there’s no denying the effectiveness of traditional networking, and, when done well, the process can be invaluable for anyone trying to gain new clients, switch jobs or just ensure that you always have a few professional contacts in your field.
So while it’s not the most pleasant exercise for those of us who would rather be, well, anywhere but a crowded, extroverted lion’s den, it’s something we all resign ourselves to at one time or another.
Luckily for us introverts, though, there are some tricks, tools and techniques we can keep in mind to make the traditional networking experience a little less awful. (Or dare I say… enjoyable? OK, OK — I might be getting ahead of myself.)
1. Don’t Force It
Why sign up for a 7 a.m. breakfast event that’s open to 400 people if you know that a) you’re not “on” until at least 9 a.m. and b) the thought of a large crowd paralyzes you? You’ll just end up a groggy, frustrated wallflower thinking about bailing 20 minutes into the event.
Diving into a situation that makes you wildly uncomfortable will only be a waste of both your time and your money — and that of your fellow networkers.
Before you sign up for an event, make sure that it will be a situation where you can relax, open up and enjoy yourself. A mid-morning coffee meetup or a casual wine night might be more your style, and that’s OK! Some breweries even have low-key networking events where you can order a beer, play some bar games and chat with like-minded professionals in your city.
2. Have a Buddy
If the thought of going it alone is too much to handle, grab a networking buddy. Ask a friend or coworker to go with you to take a little bit of the pressure off. Just make sure that said friend is a good talker so they can help carry the conversation if you get stuck.
Additionally, if you end up needing to hide in a bathroom stall while you take a few deep breaths, you’ll have a point of contact so you can rejoin the crowd without having to stand on the fringes awkwardly until someone approaches you.
3. Get There Early
As an introvert, my usual MO is to arrive late and leave early in order to keep the face-to-face interaction exhaustion to a minimum. But I also find it really difficult to walk into a room full of people when everyone has already grabbed their coffee, found their seats and covered the basic small talk.
Arriving a few minutes early ensures you have time to get settled, collect your thoughts and take a few deep breaths before diving in.
4. Come Prepared
Two things you should have in your networking arsenal: a solid elevator pitch and a few pre-rehearsed questions and talking points.
If you don’t have an elevator pitch at the ready, you can follow these steps for crafting a succinct but effective speech of your own.
As for the questions and talking points, just keep one thing in mind: People love to talk about themselves. And since you’d really rather not chat about the sportsball score from last night or the 40% chance of precipitation, asking thoughtful questions that launch your conversational counterpart into an involved monologue that will give you just enough time to formulate a follow-up.
5. Set Achievable Goals
Set small, achievable goals for yourself before you arrive. Having defined markers in to-do list form can help you move through the event without getting overwhelmed. These goals can include things like “collect 10 business cards,” “shake five hands” or “send follow-up emails to three people.”
Start small the first few times and grow your goals from there — eventually those little actions will feel natural to you, and you’ll be able to switch your focus to more involved networking. Practice makes perfect, and you shouldn’t be ashamed if it takes you a few events to get the hang of networking.
6. Gain Some False Confidence
Nothing makes an introvert feel more like an extrovert than an even more introverted introvert.
Seek out the person in the room who looks way more terrified than you and know that they’re feeling just as anxious about this situation as you are. All of a sudden you’ll feel like the talkative, outgoing one and you can help loosen each other up.
A little false confidence goes a long way when it comes to crawling out of your shell.
7. Take a Breather (or Five)
Don’t feel bad about excusing yourself to take a breather in the hallway or the bathroom when you start to feel overwhelmed. Sometimes you just need a minute to gather your thoughts and take a few deep, relaxing breaths before heading back out into the thick of it.
8. Don’t Forget to Follow Up
Let’s be real: If you skip the follow-up, the entire anxiety-inducing networking event was practically for naught.
For introverts (read: people who are often better at drafting emails than coming up with dazzling conversation on the spot), the email follow-up may be crucial to making a good and lasting impression.
While you’re at the event, take a minute between conversations to scratch a couple of notes on the back of each individual’s business card. Include any key information or takeaways from the conversation that you can reference later.
Then, draft a short and sweet email to each person you met, reminding them who you are and what you do (including any details you’re still kicking yourself for forgetting the first time around during the overwhelming hubbub) along with how you think you might be able to help each other in the future.
If you’ve made it through the entire event, good on you! If you only made it through half, that’s OK, too. Keep putting these tools into practice and eventually you’ll start to feel like a pro networker. You might even start to enjoy beginning your day alongside 300 talkative strangers. (That’s a stretch, I know.)
For now, feel free to head home, draw the blinds and lose your introverted self in a solitary Netflix binge. I’d say you’ve earned it!
Grace Schweizer is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s writing this while hiding from all human interaction.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, one of the largest personal finance websites. We help millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. In 2016, Inc. 500 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the No. 1 fastest-growing private media company in the U.S.
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