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The Introvert’s Guide to Networking

If the idea of walking into a room full of people and talking to any of them makes you want to crawl back into bed for a week, this post is for you.  And the advice is coming from someone like you (me).  Many people (extroverts) say that to be successful in business or with your career, you have to suck in your entire personality and just “become an extrovert” for the ten, fifteen, or fifty minutes it takes to do some successful networking.  They are, of course, incorrect.  Introverts just need to prepare in their own way.

Before you get ready for your networking debut, take a look at our three part series on how to start, steer, and continue the networking conversation.  It might help to practice a bit of this light networking conversation with a friend.  Here are some ways to feel comfortable and confident, allowing you to get that conversation started.

Start small. There is no reason to choose a huge conference to be your first, best networking opportunity. Start small. Test your skills at a semi-local lunch time discussion or evening lecture—a weekly series is perfect. Test group sizes until you find one that is comfortable for you.

Prepare. Never been to this type of meeting or gathering before? Plan on dropping by before your big networking debut to check it out – see what people are wearing, when they get there, how late they stay.  You don’t have to network this time – this trip is purely recognizance. Going once before you try to start networking also allows people to recognize you the next time you show up.  If you chose a lunch discussion or cocktail hour, you can strategically cover lulls in the conversation or periods of not talking by eating or drinking.

Get ready.  Prepare your favorite and most comfortable outfit in the correct dress code the night before. Iron it, wash it, lay it out. Make sure you have it ready to go.  This includes shoes and socks/stockings.  If you don’t feel comfortable in your clothing, it will be harder to achieve the confidence you need to talk to people.  If you don’t have anything you feel good in that is dressy enough, you need to go shopping.  Bring a friend. Don’t leave until you have a good outfit.

Go alone. Leave early. Earlier than you think you really need to.  Ideally, you’ll have already been to the location so you know where to go and how long it will take you to get there, but not being late is a bit confidence booster.  If you’re one of the first folks to show up, it will be more intimate and easier to start up a conversation. Go alone. It’s tempting, when you are shy or an introvert, to want to bring a friend along as a stranger-shield.  Your networking results will be much better if you go alone.

Be an expert.  Begin your networking efforts by attending events where you are an expert in the subject matter.  Being an expert will make you more confident and comfortable sharing your opinions and theories.  Since a big part of networking is just making a very human connection with others, that willingness to share is important.  This is usually where most people (extroverts) get advice about being a good listener – hopefully those years of being quiet or shy or otherwise introverted will have already given you this skill.  You can put it to good use by listening until you feel ready to speak up, then engaging what you’ve heard in your conversation.

Set a goal. For example, bring 10 business cards. When you’ve handed them out as the natural conclusion of quality conversations with ten people, you can leave.  You may need to adjust the amount for your exact situation.  This just gives you a concrete goal for the evening.

Networking is a skill like anything else – you might not enjoy it, but you need to develop it.  Start small and build your way up to larger events. As you improve your networking skills, you’ll be more comfortable with the entire process.  The idea of networking won’t be as stressful.  Instead, you’ll be fully prepared to take it on like a pro!

4 Comments

  1. Dennis Grubbs
    Posted July 13, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Great article. Interesting your advice on not bringing a friend to the event. I’ve seen networking articles that advise bringing a friend to help with your comfort level, but I definitely see the value in what you said. I’m definitely an introvert (at least in new situations) and have recently started to go to events for social media, and have had a little luck with and without bringing a friend. I’m definitely going to keep your advice in mind!

    Thanks again for the great reading.

  2. Posted September 19, 2010 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    I find that introverts actually have advantages when it comes to networking and the secret to making it work for you is to tap into those strengths.

    Introverts are great at listening before speaking. Perfect for networking!

    Introverts also prefer meaningful conversations over small talk. Also perfect for networking conversations. Be prepared that this means you might only have 2 or 3 quality conversations at an event. That’s fine though because handing out a bunch of biz cards to people you didn’t connect with probably won’t do you much good anyway.

    If 2 or 3 people remember you and follow through, that’s often just right!

    This is what has worked wonders for me and my career coaching clients.

  3. Posted May 26, 2011 at 12:04 am | Permalink

    I can definitely relate to your post on introverts trying to get comfortable with networking. I thought you had some very good guidelines to follow. I am finding that this networking thing is a “beast” I will have to conquer in order to make any more progress in life. Another great source of free insight I have found was at: http://relationshipcapital.co/op/?utm_src=bl

    I hope this can be of help. Thanks, Jerry

  4. Posted September 23, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Great tips. And I am so delighted you encourage people to be true to their introvert style in networking – THAT is what allows us to succeed at it.

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