Professional networking isn’t just for entrepreneurs, salespeople, or people who are looking for work. The importance of having connections that span various companies, vocations, and industries is crucial for business, innovation, and your overall career.
But networking can feel excruciating for introverts, mostly because it feels so unnatural and forced. With learning and enough practice, though, it can become second-nature—even for introverts. In his post on introversion and extroversion, Jason Seiden writes, “Ironically, although extroverts tend to have better natural social skills, people who are truly great at working social interactions tend to be introverts who have learned social skills. This elite crop of introverts took the time to study what it is that makes extroverts fun, and they have developed a set of skills that allows them to mimic the extrovert when necessary.” How encouraging; by considering networking as a skill that can be learned, the mindset goes from “This isn’t me” to “I can be great at this.”
“Although extroverts tend to have better natural social skills, people who are truly great at working social interactions tend to be introverts who have learned social skills.”
With that perspective in mind, here are some networking tips for introverts:
Fun things count. You don’t always have to talk shop. Think about your hobbies for a minute. If you are the stereotypical introvert, perhaps they are solitary activities such as reading, running, mountain biking, cooking, or gaming. However, other people also exist who have such interests and can be found. Be open to forming relationships with people who have similar hobbies–for example, the next time you are at the bookstore and someone else is in your aisle looking at similar books, ask them for a reading recommendation.
Know your answer to ice breaker questions. Often when we go to networking events or meet new people, others ask us, “What do you do?” Think ahead for how you might answer this and other common questions. If you can’t find a good enough answer, consider that you don’t have to focus on your current job. In her post, How to answer the question, What do you do, Penelope Trunk writes, “the best answer to the question ‘What do you do?’ is ‘Here’s what I’m passionately learning right now.’” And prepare some ice breakers of your own too!
Find a way to make the large crowd smaller. There is no need to talk to everyone. Find someone you know and start there—maybe they can introduce you to someone new. Or if there isn’t anyone you know around, a bar stool is a great place for initiating a conversation or, at the very least, appearing like you are open to conversation. Take breaks when you need them and don’t feel the need to overstay. After the event, don’t overanalyze the interactions you had. Remember that making just one new connection is success; catching up with an old acquaintance is also success.