August 2019

Networking for Introverts

Author: Lucy Rosen

For introverts, perhaps nothing is more intimidating than entering a room filled with strangers to strike up some clever, on-the-spot conversations. If the thought of spending an evening at a networking event makes you break into a cold sweat, if just thinking about wearing a nametag and shaking hands with dozens of strangers makes you a little shaky, or if you just can’t fathom the idea of asking someone you just met to get together to get to know each other better, you may be somewhat of an introvert (in the world of networking, anyway). And that’s totally okay—as long as it doesn’t stop you from getting out and meeting people. The fact is, networking is work … and it’s about building relationships. So, however you choose to network, it’s going to be the right way for you.

As an introvert, it may be difficult to put yourself “out there”—especially in a crowded environment where introverts typically have the toughest time. But once you take that first step into the room, there are steps you can take to not only overcome your initial nervousness, but to make networking work for you in ways you never thought possible.

Here are some tips for introverts who would rather not network but know they need to:

Networking at an event
Go early. Leave early. Why? By arriving earlier than most, you have the advantage of picking the best spot in the room, which (and I’m letting you in on one of my biggest networking secrets) is standing by the door. Picking a spot by the door is key because it allows you to serve as a “host/hostess” at the event. The door is where the host/hostess always stands to greet people as they enter. If you are positioned by the door and greeting people as they come in, it’s more of a greeting and welcoming gesture than anything resembling networking.

When you arrive, act as if this is your event and you are there to connect people to each other and to help them network. Acting as the host/hostess allows you to move effortlessly around, meeting people and then introducing them to others. If you make this about everyone else in the room and not about you, you have a mission—and all of a sudden, not only are you meeting everyone at the event, but you are also easily networking by being a matchmaker (and, truthfully, there is no better networker than someone who introduces people to each other).

When you’re ready to move away from the door, work the outer perimeter of the room. While doing so, continue acting as the host/hostess of the event by introducing yourself and having a brief conversation with the person. Since you’ve met the majority of these people at the door, you’ll now be able to grab someone walking by and introduce them to the person you are talking to, which frees you to talk to the next guest. Remember, at a networking event, everyone is there for the same reason—to network! It’s not like a social event where you aren’t sure if someone wants to talk to you. Trust me, they do!

Capitalize on being a great listener. Introverts are generally great at listening, which makes you the ultimate networker. Instead of taking over the conversation by talking too much, listen/process … and then share what you’ve learned with others and help them meet new people.

Bring another networker. Sometimes it’s easier to walk into a room with someone. It’s okay to bring a colleague or friend to a networking event—just make sure not to use them as “conversation crutch” at the event that would prevent you from meeting new people.

Be genuine. If you are shy by nature, you can’t come off as gregarious and outgoing—and if you do try and pull that off, it’s going to appear fake. Trying to be someone you’re not will definitely hurt you more than help you in the long run, so remember to be your authentic self.

One-on-one networking
Don’t make it about you. Most introverted networkers find one-on-one settings much easier to navigate. But remember, the same rules apply as if you were at an event. Go with the intention of getting to know the person, to network/introduce them to people you know, and not make it about you, which, for most introverts works out really well. Ask questions. Be genuine. This is about developing a relationship, and one-on-one is usually a great way for an introvert to start.

Seek out online networking opportunities. The ultimate space for an introverted networker is online. By actively participating on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and especially LinkedIn, you don’t need to be visible “in person,” only visible online. In today’s world, not only is online networking imperative, but it often pays off better than going the traditional route. I still believe one-on-one relationships are the cornerstone of any good networking relationship, but online relationships built over time can be equally as beneficial.

Final words on networking in general:
Be real. Be genuine.

Be up-to-date on current events so you have some good conversation starters other than “what do you do?”
Make an effort to be “present.” Looking over someone’s shoulder to find the next person to talk to is not only rude but won’t get you far in creating the relationship you are hoping to start.

Follow up. You have about 48 hours from the time you meet someone to follow up with a call, a card or an email. And if you want to explore a mutually beneficial working relationship, set a date to get together.
DO NOT sell. EVER. Not the first time you meet someone. Not the second time. Not ever. Your goal in creating a networking relationship should always be about what you can do for them, not what you can do for yourself. If you do this right, you will have many people out there doing this for you, and that’s what you want. Networking is not selling.

Wear your nametag on the right, not on the left. Want to know why? When you shake hands with someone, you shake with your right hand meaning your eyes travel with your arm, landing effortlessly on the nametag. To remember someone’s name, repeat it out loud. Saying a name out loud (e.g. “Hi, it’s great to meet you, Sam”) really does help for the next time you meet—when Sam isn’t wearing a nametag.

Networking works. Whether you’re an introvert stepping out of your comfort zone in order to take advantage of networking opportunities or an extrovert who thrives on working the room, find your individual style, finesse your skills, and follow these tips to reap the many benefits that networking can bring, no matter what your personality type.

Lucy Rosen is chief solutions officer at SmartMarketing Communications.

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