Networking for Introverts: How to Go from Surviving to Succeeding
I was that kid. The one desperately hiding behind her mother’s leg, wishing for invisibility as she begged me between clenched teeth to “be polite” while smiling apologetically at the person in front of us. Whether it was a stranger, a former teacher, or even an extended family member, my reaction was the same – hide!
As I grew older, my shyness matured into introversion. Well, maybe there’s still a bit of shyness, but it’s less of a desire to be invisible and more of a preference to spend time alone or with a few people rather than in crowds or at social gatherings. While this works well for me in my personal life, it feels like a bit of a weakness in my professional life. In the workplace, it seems like being the biggest personality in the room is a talent that gets you places.
Over the last few years, I’ve noticed a shift. There is a newfound respect for introverts in the office. A previous boss once said to me, “You’ll never be the loudest person at the table, but that’s okay – you’re quietly effective.” And, I won’t lie, this felt good. I was understood and valued. But while it’s great that introverts are being celebrated alongside their more outgoing colleagues, it sure doesn’t make networking any easier.
There are situations where, if you want to get the most value out of your career, you need to present more outgoing aspects of your personality and curb your introversion. These situations include professional growth conferences, tradeshows, partner events, big client meetings – and even the company summer outing.
Over the years I’ve developed a few coping mechanisms – *ahem* I mean, tricks – to not just survive networking, but to get real value from it, and dare I say, enjoy it. Here are seven tricks to try during your next networking opportunity.
Trick #1: Outsmart your introversion.
Beyoncé has Sasha Fierce. I have Showtime Sarah. Although my alter ego is much less cool (honestly, who can compete with the Queen), she serves a similar purpose – to cue my mind that it’s time to come out of my shell.
So, figure out a trick that signals you it’s time to be comfortable and socialize, whether it’s creating an alter ego or just using a silly phrase to amp yourself up. And, the next time you see me walk into a crowded room, know I very likely just whispered to myself, “It’s showtime!” before stepping through the door.
Trick #2: Look how you want to feel.
I know. This is so cliché and superficial. But feeling good about how you look really can impact how you carry yourself. Maybe this means doing your hair a certain way, putting on your favorite suit, or simply wearing your lucky watch. If there is something you can do with your appearance that makes you feel more confident, then take the time to do it. Looking good helps you feel good, and feeling good can carry you through those conversations with new people.
Trick #3: Set an objective.
Before attending any networking event, ask yourself what you want to get out of it. Maybe you want to meet likeminded people. Maybe you want to learn something new. Maybe you want to increase your visibility within your company. Setting an objective allows you to identify the potential value of an event and will help you stay focused when you step into that crowded room.
I once had to attend an executive roundtable in NYC. My main responsibility was to ensure that my CEO had everything he needed for his speaking engagement at this event. Although this was important, it also meant I had a lot of time before and after his session without much to do. So, I set a personal objective to introduce myself to journalists I had been trying to connect with via email and pitch them an idea for an article. This objective stopped me from wasting time standing in a corner – and ultimately resulted in a TIME Magazine cover story!
Trick #4: Arm yourself with questions.
One of the biggest things that trips me up when I’m around a lot of people is worrying about what to say. If somebody I don’t know starts talking to me, how do I continue the conversation? In order to avoid awkwardness, I come up with a few open-ended questions I can fall back on ahead of time. Some good ones that have worked well for me in the past include:
- How did you find out about this event?
- How did you get into your role (or industry)?
- What do you like best about your work?
And remember – listening (which we introverts do best) is just as important as talking.
Trick #5: Make it a game.
To make networking fun, try turning it into a game. Set challenges for yourself and then make them more difficult as your level of comfortability increases. Maybe this is introducing yourself to at least three people or asking a question during the audience Q&A. Once you get comfortable with this make your challenges more targeted. For example, find and introduce yourself to the CMO at CompanyXYZ – and invite them to coffee to explore options for working together.
Don’t forget to reward yourself when you win a challenge – treat yourself to a pedicure or buy those sunglasses you’ve been eyeballing!
Trick #6: Schedule time to recharge.
As an introvert, networking can take a lot out of us. If you’re like me, you’ll likely need time to recharge post event and even during – that’s okay. Taking a few breaks to step outside for a couple of minutes or having much-needed alone time afterwards is perfectly healthy. It’s what keeps us introverts energized and able to enjoy ourselves. It’s important to acknowledge that after being “on” for any given amount of time, you need to hit the pause button and schedule time for self-care.
Note, a lot of conferences hold post-event social outings. If you can summon the energy to attend these parties, they can actually be a fun way to unwind, but if not – don’t fret. Make the most of your time at the main event and congratulate yourself on a job well done while kicking back in your blissfully quiet hotel room. This doesn’t make you a hermit, antisocial or any of those other mumbo jumbo stigmas that tend to be associated with introverts – it just means you’re taking care of yourself. Never be afraid to do you.
Trick #7: Intentionally push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Again, acknowledgement is key. We all have varying levels of introversion and thus different levels of comfort zones. Identify your comfort zone (for me – on the couch with my dogs) and then shove yourself out of it once a week, once a month, or at least once a quarter. So instead of cuddling with the furballs, I’ll deliberately give up a night here and there to try something new. Maybe this means attending a public speaking class, going to a party you’d normally avoid, or showing up to that class reunion you’ve been dreading. Use these opportunities to practice for your next career-building networking event.
Don’t get me wrong. These tricks aren’t foolproof. It will take some practice to feel more comfortable in various social settings. The transition from survival to success is not easy – I’m more than ten years into my career and continue to work at it every day. But hopefully this will give you a good start in getting more value out of networking events.
Do you use tricks to get the most out of networking opportunities? I’d love to hear about them. Share in the comments section below!
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