We’re taught in order to progress in our careers we have to network with others. However, if you are introverted, meeting with someone one-on-one or just being by yourself sounds a whole lot more appealing than spending hours in a crowded room of people.
With at least one-third of the population identifying as introverts, you are not alone. The very attributes associated with introversion—such as, reflective, independent, and thoughtful—are also the ones that make introverts quite successful. Some of the most tech savvy and innovative people out there are introverted and have managed to make impressive advances in our industry.
They are thinkers and complex problem solvers. It’s because of introverts that we have the theory of gravity, the theory of relativity, Google, and even Charlie Brown*.
So, back to networking.
According to Dr. David Weiman, a management psychologist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who specializes in leadership development, “Introverts often like having time to think and process what they’re seeing and learning, and that can make networking events a little challenging, because you’re interacting with people at a pace that may be a little ahead of what you’re most comfortable with.”
If you are an introvert, it can be more of a challenge and take more effort to network. But, that doesn’t mean you should avoid networking and it definitely doesn’t mean you have to change who you are—instead, find a way to do it what works for you.
In preparation for this post, SEJ Managing Editor Kelsey Jones and I reached out to the community for personal networking tips. Below is a compilation of five tips that have worked for others and may work for you, too.
Introvert Networking Tips
1. Pick and Choose Your Networking Events
Because of the energy required to be surrounded by a group of people, be choosy about the networking events you want to attend. You don’t have to go to an event just because you were invited. Find out who is going and determine if it even makes sense for you to go. You might even set a goal for yourself regarding how many networking events you want to attend a month, quarter, or year. That way you won’t feel guilty if you turn one down.
Even if you only go to a few events a year, you can maximize what you get out of networking. For example, you might want to take it beyond the initial conference or event. As Scott Cowley, a marketing strategy instructor and PhD candidate, advises, “events and conferences by themselves aren’t usually experimental enough for people to bond at a first meeting. Often it takes something peripheral—sharing a meal, doing karaoke, etc.” Don’t be afraid to invite someone for a follow-up conversation or meeting.
2. Be One of the First to Arrive
It is a lot easier to find people to talk to when the crowd is just forming. Joshua Titsworth, Digital Marketing Specialist at Vizion Interactive, gave some great advice if you are attending a conference. He leaves conference sessions early before the breaks, so he can get to the next area before anyone else, as it allow others to choose to sit by him. As Joshua explains, “I found that by doing that, I was with people I was the most like and while the chit-chat might not have been much, it was again enough to get me to relax and enjoy the session.”
3. Don’t Work the Room
Who says you have to “work the room”? Instead, when you arrive at an event, search out a small number of people you would like to get to know better. Dr. Weiman gives great advice regarding this concept, “You might first circulate throughout the event and find out who is there and what businesses they’re from, then identify the ones you want to talk with and find a quiet space to invite them to do that.” He goes on to explain, “If you find your ‘target’ participants are surrounded by others, you might politely hand them your card and say, ‘I’d be really interested in learning more about what you do; why don’t we find some time to talk after the event?’”
Focus on that deeper conversation and creating a personal connection. If you walk away knowing a few people, you can consider the event a success.
4. Ask Questions to Uncover Someone’s Story
Introverts are known for being good listeners, so put that skill to work. It will come to your advantage when you are networking. Get the other person to do the majority of the talking by asking thoughtful questions and listening to his or her story. It makes the conversation more interesting.
If you want to take it a step further, have an idea ahead of time of the questions you will ask people. That makes striking up a conversation less difficult. You will need to share information about yourself too, though, so your conversation doesn’t come off like an interrogation.
5. Find Out More About Attendees Before You Go to the Event
As Dr. Weiman explains, “This can help you decide who you definitely want to talk with at the event. You might even contact those people in advance and see if they might want to meet up a certain time during the event.”
If you have an idea of who is going to be at a networking event, connect with them ahead of time via social networks, such as LinkedIn, Google+, or Twitter. When you finally meet face to face, you will already know a little bit about each other and can skip a lot of the small talk. It will also give you an opportunity to learn more about the person’s background and even interests, which can fill up a lot of your conversation. Ira Kates, Digital Business Strategist of 360i, talks about using social networks to discover how people interact. Find “common ground, outside the industry you are in. For example, if one was researching me, they would see that I like Sci Fi, sports, photography, and cooking, on top of digital media,” says Kates.
Bonus Tip: Sometimes It’s Worth Stretching Yourself (Within Limits)
In the book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, the author describes what is called the “rubber band theory” of personality. Basically, this theory says we are a bit like rubber bands—we have the ability to stretch ourselves within limits. I have a personal story that goes along with this theory and I will explain how it applies to networking at the end.
Years ago, I made the decision that I wanted to teach part-time at a local college, but wasn’t sure how to go about it. I had already applied online as an adjunct professor and got nowhere, so I sought the advice of a friend who had been teaching for more than a decade. His advice—just show up at the campus and find the department chair. Honestly, I couldn’t think of much worse than arriving unannounced and trying to convince someone to hire me as a professor. I did it anyway.
Before I drove to the college campus, I looked up the department chair and found out where his office was located, as well as his office hours. I came armed with my resume, books and other materials that I thought would impress him. When I arrived, I couldn’t get myself to leave the car. Literally, I sat in the parking lot and had to give myself a pep talk. It was one of the most uncomfortable situations I had faced on a professional level, but I decided I had nothing to lose. I got out of the car, walked across campus, found the department chair, who was talking to another professor at the time, and gave my quick elevator speech. Both the department chair and other professor looked at me like I was crazy.
Yes, I was nervous, so nervous in fact that I forgot to leave the other items I had brought with me and only left my resume. I was overdressed and a host of other things. I received what I thought was a “brush off” as the department chair tersely told me he had to get to class and thanks for stopping by. Do you want to know how it ended? That early evening I received a phone call from the department chair saying he would like to interview me for an adjunct professor position.
My story obviously didn’t involve a networking event, but it did involve stretching myself beyond where I was comfortable, but also within reason. It was worth it in the end. The same applies to networking opportunities. Sometimes we have to put ourselves out there and even stretch ourselves a little.
Final Thoughts on Networking
Having a plan, which is what these tips are meant to supply, along with goals, can make networking enjoyable and even beneficial, for both extroverts and introverts. Look at networking as an opportunity to make meaningful connections and maybe even a few friends.
Do you have a favorite networking tip to share? Add it to the comment section below.
*Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. New York: Crown Publishers, 2012. Print.