I always felt so alone in a crowded room full of people who were networking. Everyone seemed to know someone and knew exactly what to say. At least, that was my perception. Conferences, networking events, or meetups can be an introvert’s worst nightmare — they certainly have been for me.
In these situations I always felt like I was walking into an extrovert’s paradise (maybe Weird Al can do a parody song). They are a place where extroverts can talk about themselves, then talk some more, and get energized. It’s a place that introverts like me would rather avoid — large crowds and loud people who love to hear themselves talk.
However, I knew I needed to take these opportunities to build better relationships. I discovered there are ways to use our introverted awesomeness to keep people interested and meet important people. Here are 10 networking tips all introverts can use.
1. Prepare for Networking
Do some basic research ahead of time. Get to know some of the important people who are going to be at this event. The more you know about who are you going to be interacting with, the more comfortable you will feel interacting with them. Also, get to know the types of people you expect to attend this event. Maybe there are others you know who are also planning on going and you can pick their brains.
2. Manage Expectations
In other words, define what you want to get out of networking. It’s a lot easier when we have measurable expectations rather than a broad definition of networking. Set realistic goals for yourself. For instance, plan on talking to just one important person and exchange contact info. That’s a lot easier (and perhaps more realistic) than walking into a room and blindly networking! Define what networking means for you.
3. Acknowledge Your Fears
As introverts, we may feel uncomfortable in these situations. That’s okay. Acknowledge you feel this way and accept that it’s part of who you are. Don’t beat yourself up about it. We perform at our best when we are fully aware of ourselves and can then take the appropriate action. As the event gets closer, understand that it’s only natural to feel this way. The more we acknowledge fear for what it it, the less power it has over us.
4. Listen and Empathize
This is where introverts can really boost their networking abilities. In general, people love to talk about themselves and love it when other people are interested in what they are saying. As introverts, we are usually pretty engaged and interested in others. Use this to your advantage by relating to what other people have to say in a genuine, honest way. Be fully present in the conversation.
5. Ask Good Questions
Ask questions that open up the conversation rather than shut it down. Ask open-ended questions instead of yes/no questions. Let’s look at the same question asked two different ways: “What surprised you most about your career path?” and “Are you surprised with the career path you chose?” The first example opens up the conversation so someone can talk about their career. But in the second example, someone can just say yes or no and then the conversation can become awkward. We don’t want to feel any more awkward than we already do!
6. Tell Your Story
We all have a unique story to tell. Try to incorporate your story into important conversations. As introverts, use this to your advantage. We don’t have to boast about ourselves, but instead tell a compelling story related to the topic of interest. People love to hear stories and you can keep people interested in you by relating topics of conversation to your personal story. Before networking, think of some stories you can incorporate into conversation.
7. Keep Things Positive
There have been times when I wanted to be out of a situation so bad that I rationalized how I felt by blaming something or someone else. Something like, “I don’t really need to talk to anyone anyway. They just talk about pointless stuff.” Or, “This event is boring, don’t you think?” While you may feel this way, it’s best to keep it to yourself and not to incorporate into the conversation. Important people don’t want to hear it. Keep conversations and your attitude positive.
8. Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice these techniques with people you know and trust first. The lower the stakes, the lower the risk. Find a co-worker and let them you know you’re trying to improve your networking abilities. People want to help out, and often they are struggling with some of the same fears you are. Ask a good friend to help out or challenge yourself to speak up at a meeting. There are many ways to practice networking before it really matters.
9. Celebrate Small Victories
If you improved even a little, celebrate it. Great conversation and networking is a skill and takes time to learn. As introverts, we need to remind ourselves of the little stuff. Maybe you talked to one more person than you normally would. Maybe you simply attended a networking event! Maybe you were able to manage your expectations for the first time. Over time, many small victories add up to huge wins. Give yourself credit.
10. Follow Up
After any networking opportunity, ask yourself what you learned and how you can improve for next time. Take a look back and analyze what worked and what didn’t. Even if you believe it tanked, remind yourself that it probably wasn’t as bad as you believe it to be. This was just one opportunity. There will be many more. Take the time out to reflect upon your experience in order to improve it for next time.
Often, our worst nightmares about uncomfortable situations are just that — our thoughts can take over and the worst possible outcome will most likely not occur. There are many subtle ways that we can use our introverted personalities to get ahead in our careers, relationships, and lives. Utilize these tips as a reminder that we don’t have to be something we’re not. Go get ’em!