Networking is the fine art of connecting with people to help one another reach a shared or individual goal. It can be done in a variety of ways and places, ranging anywhere between online to in-person events.
For an entrepreneur who also identifies as being introverted, networking can pose a problem. For some, networking is a sweat-inducing, anxiety-causing problem that makes it seem like there is no hope for ever connecting with the right people for their business.
Introversion is fortunately coming off the brink of being a stigmatized “condition” with no known cure. It used to be that if you identified as being introverted, you were thought of as a social pariah, a painfully shy person who couldn’t function around the presence of other people. While many shy people are also introverts, the personality types are not one in the same. Some introverts are even mistaken for extroverts because they enjoy and interact well with people!
Introversion and extroversion correlate more with how someone gains and uses energy. So while an introvert might enjoy an afternoon out on the town with friends, he or she would probably need the rest of the night to spend some time alone and recharge. Introverts tend to gain energy by being alone while extroverts gain energy by being with people. Introverts also get along very well with other people, most often in smaller groups. Even more often introverts are comfortable with small groups of people they are already familiar with.
So it’s no surprise why interacting with strangers isn’t the most appealing thought to introverts. While there is no secret formula to making these interactions suit our personalities better, as everyone handles things differently, these suggestions might help you become a better networker.
We’ll start with in-person networking events. Also, here’s some worksheets for ya.
BEFORE going to the event:
- Have your elevator pitch ready.
An elevator pitch (or elevator speech) is telling someone what you do in 30 seconds or less – or the ride of a standard elevator ride. The theory behind this is concisely telling someone about your business, project, and/or goal in that short amount of time because that’s virtually all you have. Not only does this help you “cut out the fluff” when speaking, but also the human attention span is short and you don’t want to lose a potential connection by going on and on about what you’re up to.
Your elevator pitch should include:
- Name of your business (or who you work for)
- Who your target audience/client is
- What service/product you offer
- What problem you solve for them
- How you do this differently from your competition
For example, a dog-groomer who caters to small, indoor dogs might say:
Hi! I’m John, the owner of Spot’s Spot, a company specializing in small pet grooming. While we do our best to quickly groom our pet clients to perfection, our human clients are often too busy to stop by the shop – so we accommodate them by having a mobile grooming service that can travel within a 100-mile radius of our main location.
Practice it while you’re at home alone. Practice saying it aloud in the mirror. Bug your best friends and repeat it 20 times to each of them until you can say it smoothly, naturally, and with confidence.
- Do your research.
If possible, I highly recommend researching the people who might be at the event. Researching public information about those who might be in attendance is a great way to put your feelers out in preparation of what you can talk about. This also helps to minimize the small talk that we introverts tend to not care much for.
Note that pre-event research might not be feasible, especially if the event is open to the public. If you can’t find out any information about attendees, figure out what company or organization is hosting the event – then find out who’s on the planning committee. Simply knowing names and job titles is a great start! You can formulate your own questions and conversation starters based on this information alone.
- Business cards.
As technology grows and changes, if nothing else remains, at least one thing will: business cards. There’s just something about having business cards at your disposal to hand out as needed making a tangible point of contact with someone else. Sure, there are digital (and arguably more convenient) ways to make contact but having printed business cards are a great way to set yourself apart while networking. An extra step would be to include your picture on the business card so that the new contact can literally put a face with the name.
Here are some well-known places I’ve used and heard glowing recommendations from personal references in my field* (*I am not a paid endorser for these companies – I just love them):
- Have an end-goal.
Knowing why you’re participating in the event is important to think about beforehand. Goal-setting is important in that you are setting your sights on what you hope to accomplish by your participation. What’s your goal for participating in the event? How many contacts would you like to make by the time you leave? Maybe your goal is to simply talk to 5-7 people and pitch your elevator pitch to them to gauge reaction. Maybe you’d like to take it a step further and add a certain number of contacts to your network bank by the end of the evening. Having a goal is like setting up your expectations for the event once you have this in mind, it’s only a matter of reaching those expectations step by step.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare.
We introverts thrive on planning things out and thinking things through – don’t let your networking be the exception to what you naturally do. While overthinking is not ideal, it doesn’t hurt to mentally prepare beforehand so that you are as comfortable and ready as possible. Cozy in with the fact that you will talk with new people, learn about what they do, talk about what you do, and possibly exchange contact information.
During your event:
- Take a buddy.
It’s great to have someone you’re familiar with at your event to help buffer the anxious or nervous emotions you might be feeling. A word of loving warning though: while having someone with you makes the event a little easier, don’t use them as a crutch and stay in your comfort zone by not branching out. It’s a known fact that we as humans thrive with other people or groups. But when we get comfortable, we tend to stay within our comfort zone – which could hold us back from some great opportunities.
If you go it alone, it’s a good idea to have an accountability partner (or a caring friend) who’s interested to hear how it went for you. Just knowing that this person will be checking in on things after the event is over is great incentive for sticking to your goals and creating an experience worth talking about.
- Enjoy the food (but not too much).
Yes, it’s ok to have some fun and actually enjoy the sights, sounds, and tastes of the event! Many networking events are catered or have finger foods available – don’t be afraid to enjoy what the event has to offer. Interestingly enough, the topic of food could help open the door of communication with a stranger. The past few mixers I’ve been to provided just enough tables for people to have somewhere to eat, but not enough to where you had your own table. I’m sure there were economical reasons for this, but I suspect there was an underlying ulterior motive as well. Be sure not to rely on food as a barrier between you and a potential contact.
- Wear comfortable clothing
One thing that’s helped me to relax at networking events is to feel good in what I’m wearing. And just feel good, but feel comfortable. Most events call for business casual and are held just after the work day is over, so plan accordingly and decide if you’re going to wear your Networking Clothes to work or bring a change of outfit.
- Don’t judge a book by its cover.
It’s so easy to look around a crowded space and talk yourself out of approaching someone. I get it. You’re nervous, you don’t know how to start a conversation, you don’t want to come across as cheesy or whatever. At the root of this behavior, it’s a defense mechanism and you’re just trying to save face.
The danger in this is you teeter on that thin line of judging a person by their appearance because of your own insecurities. Instead, choose to come from a place of positivity – give people a chance to show themselves and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. That is at the core of business and networking; without mastering this, you run the risk of stagnating your professional development.
- Trust your instincts.
Just as we should not use judging people as a defense mechanism that keeps us in our comfort zone, we should also take a hint if someone is just not a good fit for us or if there is a threat. Ideally, your event will be in a well-lit, well-known space that discourages inappropriate behavior from its attendees. If it’s not this type of environment, exit immediately and don’t look back.
Otherwise, there will most likely be a smaller percentage of immediate danger – but this doesn’t mean everyone you meet is a keeper. Watch for the signs for someone who just isn’t interested: short responses, looking everywhere but you, negative body language, little to no effort in continuing the conversation, etc. If you encounter this type of person, don’t take it personally – just move on to another contact that is willing to match what you offer.
After your event:
- Follow up.
If you were invited by someone in particular, it’s a great idea to send a handwritten thank-you card to show your appreciation. In our hyper-digitalized world, gestures like handwritten notes or even thank-you cards are taken for granted. Sending one to someone helps you stand out from the crowd and will really just make their day. Can you remember the last time you received something (bills and junk mail excluded) in the mail? More likely than not, unless a holiday or birthday has recently passed, you haven’t in awhile. Remember how nice it feels to receive something like that. Now go and provide someone else that lovely feeling.
Good afternoon, Jenna!
I wanted to touch bases with you and let you know how good it was meeting you yesterday at the Epically Cool Folks networking event. As I said, networking events aren’t typically “my thing” as they force me to step out of my comfort zone; it was nice to meet someone else that feels like I do!
I hope you’ve had the opportunity to check out positions with XYZ Fashion Institute and even continue considering positions with your local retailers (even as just a temporary solution).
Here’s my contact information – please keep in touch and good luck with your job hunting!
It was so good meeting you last night at the Epically Cool Folks networking event. We didn’t talk very long but I definitely wanted to be sure and pass my contact information to you.
I was only able to catch bits and pieces of what you were saying to Jenna about women in the finance industry, but I found your points very intriguing. I agree that there is a lack of diversity in that area and hopefully this can be rectified in the near future.
Again, nice meeting you and talk with you soon!
Good morning, Ms. Smith!
I wanted to touch bases with you and let you know how good it was meeting you yesterday at the Chillin’ with the Chamber networking event.
I enjoyed hearing a little about what you do with ABC Company, Inc. and could definitely hear the passion you have for it. I also enjoyed our conversation about child-rearing – that’s always been a topic that interests me and it was nice to hear another single mom’s perspective.
I’ve included my contact information below, please keep in touch!
As an introvert, you’re probably well acquainted with debriefing or going over things a few (million) times after the fact. Use your Introvert Superpowers for this specific event and think about:
- How things went
- How you felt after the event
- How you can improve
It’s a fact of life that no matter how well we prepare for something, it’s not guaranteed to go exactly as planned. So if your event didn’t go exactly as planned, great! You now have something to build on and improve the next time. If it did go well, great! You still have something to build on and improve the next time.
- Do it again
You’ve got this event under your belt, congratulations! I am a firm believer that the more of something you put out, the more likely it is to come back to you. (Note: this works in the negative and positive spectrum!) Whether this event went smoothly in your opinion or you totally bombed it – the more you work at something and consistently refine it, the better you will become at it. Keep at it. Examine your strengths and weaknesses, don’t get down on yourself for the things you wish you could’ve done better, and look for more opportunities to better your networking skills.
Networking online is also a great way to make contact with people for potential career and business opportunities. It’s becoming more commonplace and less taboo as many people have at least some connection to the online arena; I for one have definitely made some great contacts via various social media platforms alone.
While the general spirit of in-person and online networking is the same, the two have slightly different approaches and rules of etiquette:
- Know your contact. Being online gives you the unique opportunity to research the contact you’d like to reach out to – before actually reaching out to them. find out what you can so that you have a point of reference and figure out if there are any commonalities between you.
- Show yourself friendly. Just like in offline relationships, building a relationship with someone online needs to flow naturally.
- Use hashtags. Hashtags are a great way to find other people talking about or interested in the same things you are. Simply typing in a specific hashtag and reaching out to the people who are also using them is a low-effort icebreaker for a conversation to spark up.
- Participate in Twitter chats. Twitter chats are quickly becoming one of my favorite ways to network. These chats are usually hosted by one or more users and focus on a specific topic. Chats are categorized or tagged by using unique hashtags specific to the chat and the hosts moderate the chats by posting questions related to the main topic that encourage participants to answer and talk about. Not only are these chats lots of fun to participate in, they also are great ways to learn, find encouragement, and network with people in your area of interest.
- Follow up. When following up with online contacts, it’s a good rule of thumb to do a little more than reach out to them in the way that you would in-person contacts. For instance, following someone on social media, liking and engaging with their posts, and retweeting or repurposing their content for your audience does a lot for a potential connection.
Did these tips help you? Do you have any additional tips you’d like to share with us on how you network as an introvert? Leave your thoughts in the comments.