In a professional world that seems to be designed for extroverts, it can be hard for introverts to network successfully if they don’t take their personality into account. Finding success as a business professional requires networking, especially as an entrepreneur or independent contractor. There are no shortcuts for meeting genuine contacts and clients without talking to them. There are, however, plenty of things introverts can do to reduce stress and build the essential skills for networking.
1. Preparation and Planning
Introverts need to approach networking differently than extroverts. A true extrovert can walk into a crowded room and start making connections without any trouble. For an introvert, just stepping into a room full of people can immediately drain their energy. Simply having a plan can sometimes help put you at ease and keep you focused on what you’re doing.
Many conference organizations post information about the speakers and attendees for events on their websites. Networking and contact management tools can even help you pinpoint the contacts you’d like to make before you even get to the event.
Choose two or three people you’d like to meet, and search for additional information on the Internet. You can decide which questions to ask beforehand. This can give you an advantage because you’ll likely impress the contact with your pointed questions by showing you researched them and their business.
2. Adjust Your Expectations
It’s common for introverts to stress about networking events before they even begin. It’s important to make goals and stay focused on them. Go into the conference with the intention of meeting two or three people. It’s more important to have a few meaningful conversations than several shallow ones, and this only tends to be more true for people who are preferenced introverts.
Embrace the fact that there will be days you’ll want to do this, and days when you’re just not going to be ready to socialize — don’t try to attend every event just for fear of missing out. In fact, try to space them out so that you’re networking when you’re at your best and have ample time to recharge in-between.
3. Set a Time Limit
Setting a time limit can really take the stress out of networking. Go into the event with the intention of staying just enough time to meet a few contacts, and if you find yourself staying energized and having a good time, feel free to stay. But give yourself permission to leave when you feel it’s time, and never force yourself to network when what you need is quiet time.
4. Be Aware of Your Body Language
In uncomfortable situations, we unconsciously send signals through our body language that makes us appear unapproachable. Networking events are usually uncomfortable for introverts, so try to stay conscious of your posture. You may find yourself trying to cross your arms or pull out your smart phone — remember that it’s natural for you to feel anxious, but that shifting into a more defensive posture may discourage people from approaching you. Keep your facial expressions calm and neutral, and keep your phone in your pocket or purse.
5. Ask For an Introduction
If there is a specific person you’d like to meet, see if you have any mutual contacts. If so, ask the person you know to introduce you. This is, in fact, an entirely OK thing to do at a networking event, and it’s a far cry from boisterously insinuating yourself into a random conversation on the street (though I also see people getting away with this all the time.) And you could be just the person your new contact wanted to talk to.
It will probably take some practice before you start to feel more comfortable. You could try to participate in mixers to get used to the idea, but it will also come more naturally over time. You may even want to take advantage of other opportunities in your personal or professional life to develop your communications and networking skills — but remember that while you might sometimes think it a nature that you’re trying to overcome, networking is really just a skill for you to build.
7. Take Charge
One of the most common things I hear from my fellow introverts about the idea of networking is that it’s always a bar, a party, or some other high-energy event common to the industry culture that just “isn’t their scene.” I can relate with this, myself, although I’m lucky enough that a couple of drink tickets will generally get me over it. But the forum of a given networking event might not always be the right environment for you to shine in. After all, the organization of such events tends to fall within the purview of the extroverts, right? A fair point, but far from a rule. With a little initiative, or networking with event planners, you could furnish yourself with better networking opportunities in the future.
And don’t rule out organizing your own networking events — you’re not the only one that might not want a high-energy atmosphere or a bar to be central to the theme. It can be a different sort of challenge, but you may find it rewarding in a number of ways. Think of it as inbound networking, and see if it suits you.
Read more tips about networking for people who hate networking in Covve’s Blog!