Let’s face it, fellow introverts.
Networking as an introvert can feel like the world’s biggest nightmare, and while these networking tips for introverts isn’t going to change your introversion (don’t be ashamed of it!), it will help you network a bit easier than sitting over by the proverbial punch bowl and hoping that the world will swallow you whole.
First things first, we need to establish that one of the most common misconceptions is that introverts are naturally shy, which isn’t always the case.
Introversion simply means you get your energy from spending time alone, instead of spending time with people, but there can be a whole range of shyness on that spectrum.
However, if you’re an outgoing introvert, you might not have as many problems networking as shyer introverts, so overall we’re going to focus on a bit more of the stereotypical introvert who finds social interact a bit harder.
My Favorite Book for Introverts
After years of reading allll the books on introverts, I’ve happy to say I’ve found the best one no matter whether you are one yourself or want to understand them more.
The book? Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (click here to check it out on Amazon)
Okay, everyone put on their introvert shirt and let’s get started.
1. Develop Rapport with One Person at a Time
Whether you’re doing some informal networking in your new team at the office or at an actual networking event, don’t overload yourself with trying to meet more than one person at a time.
Plenty of introverts really prefer that one-to-one conversation rather than in groups, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
So while there may be 7 people on your new team, you don’t have to become BFFs with all of them at once (or ever).
Choose one person who you think is most similar to you or most approachable, and focus on developing a relationship and rapport with them.
You don’t need to cling on them or be annoying, avoiding other people, but having your foot in the door with just one person is going to help open up that door to others without overwhelming you.
Really, true networking that will provide benefits that actually last is going to mean going the one-to-one approach for almost anyone.
I once worked in a team where I got along with everyone, and had lunch with 2 of my coworkers almost every day, but developed the closest relationship with my direct supervisor who I spent a lot of time with and connected with as a fellow introvert.
I ended up getting a job because I kept in touch with him later on, and unfortunately I no longer have any meaningful connections to the others.
2. Give Yourself Time Limits
Part of networking as an introvert is knowing your own limits, and that has to do with giving yourself a time limit before you go into any dedicated networking event.
Not only because it’s going to save your sanity and make it more likely that you’ll actually go, but because nobody is going to want to network with an introvert who has gone way over their own limit for social interaction because we turn kind of cranky and boring and the look in our eyes tends to start saying, “please, send me anywhere but here.”
If you really struggle, you can set yourself something as short as 30 minutes.
Walk in, give it your all, and walk out after 30 minutes.
As you get better and more comfortable at networking, you might say that you’re going to say for 2 hours or 1 hour or something that isn’t the entire event.
There’s nothing worse than the extroverts wanting to keep the party going until the end of time and you see no way out, so set your limits ahead of time and say “unless I’m deep into a great conversation with someone at the one hour mark, that will be my cue to leave.”
You don’t want to spend the whole event or conference checking the time, though, so set an alarm on your phone or something, as otherwise you’ll get nothing out of the event.
3. Use Written Networking
When people think of networking, they often thinks of in-person networking, but there are so many ways to “network” that aren’t dedicated in-person experiences.
If you’re more comfortable expressing yourself in the written word, there are ways to use that to your advantage in networking.
So, for instance, if you want to ask out someone at your work for an informational interview (you know, those things where you’re like “let me pick your brain and I’ll buy you a coffee), you don’t have to ask in-person.
You can send a friendly e-mail and arrange it that way, which gives the other person a less awkward “out” if they don’t want to, and can mean that you don’t save your social interaction budget for other things.
The beauty of this is that it almost means you can network with people in your field who don’t live in the same area as you.
If you’re a website owner, for instance, and want to network with companies, much of that is done by e-mail where you can simply reach out and introduce yourself and get a conversation going that way, without needing to ever speak in-person.
You could also make use of business cards (order them through Moo.com, it’s so easy) which can do some of the speaking for you if you are at an event.
4. Attend an Event with an Extrovert Buddy
Introverts and extroverts often go together like peanut butter and jelly because they are so complementary.
Extroverts can help bring an introvert out of their shell and provide the talking, while introverts provide the listening and often calming effect on an extrovert.
If you have a friend or coworker who is an extrovert, you could always see if you can tag along with them to the networking event or office drinks or whatever it is (well, often, they’ll be the one inviting you because, hello, extrovert!)
You don’t want to be annoying or attached at the hip, but you’d be surprised how many people you can meet in their circle as they do the rounds of the room and maybe even give you some networking tips of their own.
5. Practice Your Non-Cringey Elevator Pitch
I know one of my problems with social interaction is that sometimes, I don’t get anything out of it because I haven’t practiced what I want to say about myself.
Now, this doesn’t apply for more informal networking experiences like getting to know your coworkers, but when you’re going to a networking event where the whole purpose is to get people to work with you or show them how awesome you are, you need to really get down the main talking points about yourself and what you do so you’re not left standing there awkwardly while the other person has no idea why you came.
I don’t recommend rehearsing or learning an actual speech because people can tell and it’s just awkward, but making sure you know how to express what you do, the meaning behind what you do, and a few bullet point ideas of things you’ve accomplished or are looking to accomplish is going to give your frazzled brain something to rely on when they ask the dreaded question, “what is it you do?” or “tell me about yourself!”
Just try and keep it as non-cringey and authentic as possible. Yes, you are “selling yourself” during networking, but get rid of the buzz words and talk like a normal human who has a passion for what they do.
6. Learn some Default Conversation Topics (Compliment!)
We’ve talked about responding to other people starting the conversation, but what about ideas on how to start the conversation yourself?
A lot of us introverts run in fear.
We prefer people to come find us, not the other way around.
But sit next to the buffet table the whole networking event and never strike up a conversation, and suddenly this opportunity just turned into a really pointless free lunch (well, is free lunch ever pointless? Not really, but you get my drift.)
You need to learn how to start conversations, and there’s one secret that I use constantly that will make sure you’re always in someone’s good graces.
Seriously, as a species, we love to be told something good about ourselves.
Whether it’s the actual work that we do or our outfit, everyone loves a bit of a boost.
And that means that complimenting is one of the greatest ways to start off a conversation if you’re nervous.
It could be about something serious, like how you loved their presentation at the conference, or it could be something more trivia and funny, like their choice of snack options.
Compliment their shoes, their bag, anything you can find to genuinely compliment and suddenly the conversation has started, and they may actually then take the lead of asking about you.
7. Choose Networking Opportunities that are Your Style
Networking comes in a wide variety of events and options, and you don’t necessarily need to go to networking events all the time that aren’t your style.
For instance, if there is a lunch for 100 people and the sheer thought of spending that much time around that many people puts you off, skip it!
Instead, look for a mentoring group in your area where you can be connected with someone one-to-one, or go to a smaller event that maybe has fewer people and doesn’t last a long.
There are events from speed networking to just informal “get togethers,” and you don’t have to feel like you have to go to them all.
8. Skip Networking Events Altogether and Do it Authentically
There is no law that you have to go to networking events at all.
If you’ve tried them and you’re just like “yeah, not for me,” you can work hard to just do your own form of networking more authentically than a dedicated event.
This can look like asking someone in your office out to lunch to discuss the latest project or because you’re interested in what they do, it can be making an effort to keep in touch with your clients on a personal level so they might recommend you for future things, etc.
Not every industry is heavy on networking, and not every person has to be the one roaming around the room with business cards in order to be successful.
9. Join Online Groups and Subreddits for Your Industry
Nowadays, there are so many online groups and subreddits for the field you’re in or what you might want to break into, that you should make sure to stay active online if nothing else.
Join LinkedIn groups, Facebook groups, subreddits, and more in order to try and stay connected to the industry and perhaps look for opportunities to connect with people more individually.
This is especially important if you’re self-employed, as there may be less dedicated networking events for you put on by a company or industry, and more opportunities online to get to know people who are also doing the same thing as you or know good places to find clients.
Plus, it doesn’t involve talking to anyone in person or being on anyone else’s time or schedule, which is a huge relief for an introvert!