Useful Tips for Introverts on How to Get Out and Network

“Hi, I’m Jane, I’m an introvert, and I’m networking challenged.” In the comedy routine of my mind, I feel like there should be an introvert support group where we introduce ourselves. If a group like that exists, I’m sure it would be small, just the way we like things.

Like several of my coaching clients, I need to get out and network as part of my business. I find it’s an activity that in the past I have avoided, postponed and outright dreaded. The thought of walking into a room of strangers, all happily talking and networking away, scares the hell out of me.

I have an extremely extroverted friend who goes out to networking events one or two nights a week and *loves* them. Over the year that I’ve known her, I’ve watched with awe and envy as she builds, nurtures and leverages her connections from those events to create an amazing professional presence that serves her career in multiple ways. She recently encouraged me to go to a networking event and I decided to take my envy and do something useful with it. I said yes. Panic set in just moments later.

I asked my extrovert friend a series of questions she found very odd, since social skills are like breathing for her, but I managed to learn the following useful tips. These strategies were simple, reassuring and actually worked for me. I managed to successfully network in a ridiculously crowded room for almost two hours, making some good connections and leaving flushed with pride, thinking “Wow, I did it!!”

What do you do when you first walk into a crowded room?

  • Arrive and get your bearings by going and doing something, like finding a place to set down your things, get a drink or appetizer, browse a literature table. I’m really good at this part, so it was reassuring to know it was a legitimate starting point.
  • Stand and look around. I usually have blind panic driving me to find an immediate landing pad, so I was surprised to hear my friend say “Don’t feel bad just standing there sipping a drink, it really is ok to not interact with anyone immediately.” Wow, extroverts think it’s ok to stand there alone? Who knew?
  • Look to see if you know anyone. Talking to people you know is not only more comfortable, but the easiest way to be introduced to new people. I was shocked to hear an extrovert who regularly goes to networking events say that it’s really hard for her to walk into a room and not know anyone. I thought bee-lining for people you knew would be cheating, but it turns out to be a perfectly valid strategy!
  • Look for other people standing alone. “It’s always awkward to go up to a group of people who are already talking. Someone standing alone will welcome your company.” This was another surprise for me, coming from an extrovert. I always thought it was my own social shyness that kept me from being able to join a group of people already talking. Turns out, it’s not the best idea anyway.
  • Make eye contact first. To really know if you’ll be received and welcomed, make eye contact as you cross the room. It’s both a signal that you’re interested and a double-check that the person is open and interested in connecting with you. Don’t forget to smile and breath while you do this.

What do you say when you first walk up to someone?

  • Introduce yourself, then ask a starter question like
    • What do you do?
    • Have you been to one of these events before?
    • What did you think of [the speaker, the presentation or anything that’s happened at the event]
  • Know that everyone at a networking event is there for the same reason–to meet people. This actually makes conversations much easier to start and maintain than at a cocktail party. At a networking event, you all are interested in finding out what others do and sharing what you do.
  • Ask questions, be interested. This is always my favorite strategy for connecting without having to talk before I’m ready. By the time it’s my turn, I’ve relaxed a little and feel enough rapport to be comfortable talking with a new person.

Then what? What’s the point of all this talking and meeting?

  • Meet enjoyable, interesting new people. Bad networking is moving around a room pressing business cards into
    people’s hands and not connecting. Good networking is making new
    connections that you enjoy.
  • Go for an enjoyable conversation! Nothing more needs to happen. I always imagined that “networking” was about making really strategic business connections and there must be some secret agenda strategy good networkers employed. But my extrovert friend actually burst out laughing at this question, the answer seemed so obvious to her. Liberating answer for me: I do know how to have enjoyable 1:1 conversations and find starting with non-personal work related topics very comfortable.
  • Build connections over time. Look for opportunities to network again with the same people. One of the reasons my friend enjoys networking events so much is that she sees the same people over and over. She genuinely enjoys their company and what she learns from talking with them. And added benefit to this is knowing more people to start with the next time you come back!
  • Give first, be open to whatever might come next. What kind of information, advice or connections can you offer the person you just met? Being a genuinely useful contact makes you memorable. In return, your new connection could lead to a new job opportunity, a source of useful information, a link to another even more interesting person. My friend just had an incredible new opportunity show up in her life as the result of a network connection she made years ago. She helped that person out, he remembered her, and years later made the introduction that lead to her current good fortune. You never know.

Do you struggle with networking or other work challenges as an introvert? If you’d like help from a coach to overcome your challenges, contact Jane for a free introductory coaching session to learn more about working with her. (She speaks Introvert!)